Employee offboarding is always a delicate dance.
Regardless of the departing employee’s position in the company, their resignation will kick off a series of logistical steps that need to be completed prior to their last day.
This is called the offboarding process.
While most companies focus their attention on the onboarding process for new employees, the offboarding process deserves an equal amount of attention since it’s the last impression your employee will retain of your company.
By amping up your offboarding process, you’ll set the expectations for the exiting employee and protect your company assets.
At the same time, you’ll also have the opportunity to curate your employee’s experience during the final stage of the employee lifecycle.
It’s also an opportunity to gather useful insights to help you improve the employee experience for remaining employees.
In a previous role as an HR administrator, I was responsible for offboarding employees for many years.
I participated in all the different types of offboarding processes: voluntary resignations, involuntary terminations, retirements, and medical-related absences.
Most recently, I even had the awkward experience of offboarding myself!
While each type of employee separation has its own unique requirements, there are some common steps that need to be completed regardless of the departure type.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the employee offboarding process step-by-step.
I’ll explain the rationale behind each step, and provide you with a checklist you can customize for your own organization.
Let’s dive in.
What is Offboarding?
Offboarding is the formal process of separating an employee from your organization. In most cases, the offboarding process begins once an employee has officially resigned. But that’s not always the case. Retirement can also trigger an offboarding process, as well as involuntary terminations or layoffs.
I will discuss each one of these steps in more detail below, but the key components of a well-designed offboarding process should include the following points:
- Inform key stakeholders within human resources, IT, operations, legal, payroll, and senior-level management
- Inform the departing employee’s direct supervisor and co-workers with discretion
- Develop a transition plan and re-assign responsibilities
- Ensure the knowledge transfer to other team members is smooth
- Conduct an exit interview to gather honest feedback
- Recover any company equipment
- Deactivate access to company technology.
Why is Employee Offboarding Important?
The offboarding experience is important to address for several key reasons.
From the company’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to gather feedback, gain insight into potential issues that need to be addressed, close up any IT loopholes, and ensure there are no remaining loose ends.
From the employee’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to gain closure on their time with the company, transfer their knowledge to remaining staff, and leave the company on good terms.
By ensuring departing employees have the opportunity to provide feedback and facilitate a smooth transition of their responsibilities to others, they will leave the company with a more professional last impression.
The upshot of this is that they’ll be more likely to recommend your company as a good place to work.
It also helps keep the door opened for rehiring boomerang employees—employees who leave the company to work somewhere else, only to return a few years later.
10 Steps to Nail Your Employee Offboarding Process Every Time
Follow these 10 simple steps to ensure your employee separation process is carried out consistently for each employee’s departure.
1. Document the Resignation or Termination
An employee may resign in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s verbally or over the phone. Other times it’s done through email or text.
But, to make it official for HR purposes, it’s important to request a formal letter of resignation that states the employee’s decision to voluntarily resign from their position. The letter should also specify their last day of employment, and whether they plan to work up to their last day or use any built-up vacation days to fill out their remaining time.
If an employee is terminated involuntarily, you’ll need to document this with an official termination letter.
Depending on the nature of their termination, your human resources team will prepare the letter citing a termination with or without cause. You’ll also need to prepare a separate letter addressing any severance payments or other benefits available to the terminated employee.
Both termination letters become important legal documents, as the wording used will either qualify or disqualify the terminated employee for additional financial support from the government, where applicable.
In some industries, especially ones that involve technical roles or proprietary technology, companies should also have departing employees sign a non-disclosure agreement. This ensures they’ll keep all proprietary company information confidential upon their departure.
2. Communicate with Key Stakeholders
Once an employee has officially resigned, you need to communicate the news to the key stakeholders in your company.
This often includes members from human resources, IT, operations, legal, payroll, senior management, the employee’s direct supervisor, and the employee’s co-workers.
All of these people will be involved in the employee’s offboarding activities in one way or another, so it makes sense to let all of them know at once.
To streamline this process, I recommend creating an offboarding email list that includes all these core contacts. When someone resigns, you can email this group and be sure you haven’t left anyone crucial out of the loop. (Just remember to loop in the outgoing employee’s manager too.)
In the past, I’ve worked in places where the news of someone’s departure was kept secret until the absolute last minute. However, I personally do not condone that practice for multiple reasons:
- The resigning employee needs time to transfer their knowledge to other co-workers. It’s hard to do that when other co-workers don’t know they’re leaving.
- The resigning employee may have friends within the company and will feel dishonest not being able to tell them what’s going on. Dishonesty also breeds resentment, which you definitely don’t want.
- If you keep the news secret for too long, other employees will feel disrespected when they find out at the 11th hour or, worse, after the person is gone. It’s important to give people the opportunity to say goodbye—both for themselves and for the outgoing employee.
- Also, secrets tend to spread fast. By keeping something “secret” you are putting your company at risk of becoming a breeding ground for gossip.
Basically, don’t keep secrets! (Unless you have a really, really good reason for doing so, such as an employee going on medical leave. For medical leaves, you must keep those quiet.)
Instead, consider sending out a company-wide announcement so everyone knows the person is leaving. This, in turn, will go a long way to ensuring a smooth transition of their responsibilities to other staff.
3. Develop a Transition Plan
Developing a transition plan should be the number one priority for the departing employee’s manager.
The first step is to ask the employee to create a list of all their current responsibilities. This should include any weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual, or other tasks they are responsible for. Make sure to brainstorm this list extensively to ensure it’s as comprehensive as possible.
Once the list is ready, the employee and manager should go through it together to determine who can be cross-trained to take on these tasks, either on a short-term or long-term basis.
Also, I recommend acting on this step quickly, as you’ll have no time to spare. Last days always sneak up faster than you’d expect!
Part of the transition plan should involve setting the expectations for what your outgoing employee can expect, and what you would like them to do during their last days.
Make it clear how they can support the transition of their responsibilities to other co-workers, and be as specific as possible.
For example, “I’d like you to spend time training John and let him shadow you as you complete X, Y and Z until he can complete these tasks on his own.”
You can also give them an offboarding checklist to help them organize their final days (scroll down to the end of this article for the link to our free downloadable template).
A transition plan is also a good opportunity to evaluate other members of your team who may be ready for internal mobility through a position change, such as a promotion or a lateral shift of responsibilities.
Be mindful of this, and ensure you’re taking people’s career aspirations into account and not just dumping work on them because they’re there.
Try to re-assign responsibilities with an eye for the best possible fit, based on skills and experience.
If you have a small team, you may even consider asking each team member individually what responsibilities they’re interested in and would like to inherit.
4. Initiate Knowledge Transfer Activities
While the previous step is focused on planning the transition, this step is focused exclusively on action.
During this step, your departing employee can help by meeting frequently with co-workers to explain tasks and walk them through any new processes step-by-step. They can also help by writing out instructions to be used as future reference material or even recording videos of how to complete key tasks from start to finish.
It’s also important to ensure the departing employee leaves a lot of time for questions from team members taking on new responsibilities.
If the transfer of responsibilities is only tenuous or temporary, it makes sense to train multiple employees on how to complete items. This includes the employee’s direct supervisor or team leader if they don’t already know what to do.
If the plan is to hire a new employee to replace the outbound employee, then you should push for as much written or video documentation as possible.
5. Conduct an Exit Interview
It’s often challenging or awkward for employees to speak their minds when they’re gainfully employed with a company. However, all of that changes with their resignation.
Exit interviews are a valuable window into employee turnover since they help uncover honest feedback about why employees are leaving.
This feedback can help HR teams spot developing trends in the work environment, or generate new ideas for retention strategies that could be rolled out.
An exit interview should always be conducted by a member of your human resources team, and never by the departing employee’s direct supervisor.
The feedback must be treated as confidential and generally should not be shared with other members of your HR team until after the employee’s last day has passed.
6. Host a Farewell or Other Acknowledgement
It is customary and professional to provide some sort of public acknowledgment for the employee’s contributions to the company prior to their last day.
If the person was only employed for a short period of time, a simple company-wide email acknowledgment may be enough.
But, for employees who have given multiple years of service to a company or are retiring, you may want to host a farewell gathering—either in person or virtually.
As well, for highly-valued employees, a goodbye card signed by colleagues, or a farewell gift, are also common practices.
You may find it odd to give a departing employee a gift. However, it’s an easy thing to do to improve their offboarding experience, and it may just result in them becoming a boomerang employee in the future.
Ultimately, I recommend doing what you can to part on good terms and keep the door open to rehiring them in the future. You should also take this opportunity to ask them for their personal contact information so you can stay in touch.
7. Recover Company Equipment
In large companies, this stage will often fall to IT or operations staff. The actions cannot be completed until their last day, but you can note in advance any company equipment that the departing employee possesses.
This is especially important in this current time of hybrid work arrangements, as employees are more likely to have company property such as laptops, monitors, desk chairs, phones, or other specialized equipment in their homes.
Make a list of all the different types of company property you need to recover and add them to your employee offboarding checklist.
Other common items to recover include office keys, keycards, fobs, ID badges, parking passes, cell phones, or company credit cards.
For large companies with many employees coming and going, you may want to use an asset tracking system to make this part of the separation process easier.
8. Deactivate Access to Company Technology
Network and other technology access deactivation should also be completed by your IT or operations staff.
With this, the timing is crucially important.
Ensure you have clearly communicated to both your IT staff and your departing employee when their access will be cut off.
In my experience, many employees end up working late on their final day to ensure there are no remaining loose ends.
This is fine, and actually appreciated, but their efforts will be quickly derailed if their IT access is cut off unnecessarily at 5 pm sharp.
As a best practice, consider cutting them off later in the evening, such as 10 pm or midnight, so you can automate the cut-off with ease.
Ensure your IT or operations staff are made aware of any changes to an employee’s last working day. This is another reason why I suggest creating an offboarding email group. That way, if the employee’s last day changes, you can notify all key stakeholders in one communication.
For employees who are laid off or terminated involuntarily, you’ll want to disable their IT access immediately to prevent any security breaches from disgruntled employees.
9. Check-in with Remaining Employees
Now that the employee is gone, the next step is to check in with your remaining employees.
Depending on the significance of your now departed employee, your other employees may have some new workload challenges on their hands.
Managers or team leaders should make time to check in with each team member 1:1 to find out how they’re doing and if they need additional support.
Remaining team members will also want to know the long-term plan for the former employee’s position. Will they be replaced, or will the remaining team be expected to absorb all that person’s work?
It’s best to be honest about these conversations and not just assume that everything is fine.
If you don’t address these issues head-on, your staff may soon experience employee burnout, causing them to look for greener pastures too.
10. Address Exit Interview Feedback
While, technically, your employee has already been offboarded now, this is a crucial step in the process that should not be overlooked.
After all, what’s the point of asking for exit interview feedback if you aren’t going to do anything with it?
Once the dust on their departure has settled and emotions are more in check, your HR department should review the exit interview feedback in detail.
Look for action opportunities that can be taken right away, as well as themes that could be explored as longer-term goals.
For example, if an employee says they felt their training was inadequate for a certain task, look into that additional training for the remaining team members immediately.
By contrast, if an employee says they’re leaving due to a larger issue, such as a lack of personal career development, this should be flagged for higher-level discussions that address how management staff can further enhance their team’s career development goals.
Now that I've walked you through the entire offboarding process, I hope you can see the value behind each step.
When I recently offboarded myself from a previous role, I followed this plan as closely as possible. Of course, I encountered some logistical awkwardness in some of the steps, but that’s only natural considering the context of trying to offboard yourself.
I wrote out a detailed transition plan and spent weeks typing up notes, recording videos and meeting 1:1 to train the handful of staff who would inherit all my responsibilities.
It was not easy, by any means. But, I also couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving my years of hard work in a state of disarray, or leaving my co-workers with no resources to draw from once I was gone.
When the final day came, I was full of emotions, making it extra important to stick with the plan. My only advantage, after years of offboarding other employees, was that I knew entirely what to expect.
I had meaningful check-ins with several senior members of the company, all of whom were sad to see me go, but professional in wishing me all the best for the future.
I also had a farewell video chat with my entire administrative team, which was both emotional and appreciated, to give closure to the whole experience.
Looking back on the process now, I can honestly say that as hard as it is to part ways with a company, following these steps is absolutely the way to do it. Each step is important, and they really do make a world of difference for the remaining members of your team.
Wondering where to go from here?
Let us make things easier for you, by downloading our Employee Offboarding Checklist, which you can customize as needed for your own organization (scroll down for the link).
I also recommend you take a look at our article on How to Attract and Retain Top Talent through the Employee Life Cycle too.
Lastly, stay interviews are another great way to check in with your staff on a semi-regular basis. They can help you uncover what’s going well, and what could be improved before it’s too late.
Also Worth Checking Out: What Will It Take To Build A Better World Of Work?