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.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the employee offboarding process step-by-step and provide you with a checklist you can customize for your own organization.
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 employee access to company assets and technology.
Why is Offboarding Important?
The offboarding experience is important to address for several key reasons. These include:
- 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.
- Employees can 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.
Offboarding vs Onboarding
Onboarding and offboarding are two crucial processes in the employee lifecycle, each serving a distinct purpose. While onboarding is about integrating new employees into the company, offboarding is the process of formally separating an employee from the organization.
Onboarding: Introduction and Integration
Onboarding is the initial phase of integrating a new employee into the organization. It focuses on helping new hires understand the company culture, align with its objectives and equip them with the tools and knowledge necessary to perform their role effectively.
Imagine a new marketing manager joining a tech company. During onboarding, they receive training about the company's products, meet their team members and are briefed on ongoing projects.
They're also guided through the company's policies, values, and expectations.
Offboarding: Formal Departure and Transition
Now let's imagine an employee who decides to leave for a new opportunity. During offboarding, they hand over their projects, return all company equipment and share their reasons for leaving and what might have prevented them leaving in an exit interview. This process helps the company understand areas for improvement and ensures a smooth handover of responsibilities.
Offboarding aims to maintain a positive relationship with departing employees and ensure compliance and security.
This process also helps the company understand areas for improvement and ensures a smooth handover of responsibilities.
How To Offboard Someone Properly
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
To make a resignation 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:
- The employee's last day of employment
- Whether they plan to work up to their last day or use remaining vacation 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:
- If the termination is with or without cause.
- If there are 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.
2. Communicate with Key Stakeholders
Once an employee has officially resigned, you need to communicate the news to the key stakeholders in your company.
To streamline this process, I recommend creating an offboarding email list that includes all core contacts from the following areas.
- Senior management
- The employee's manager
One thing you don't want to do is attempt to keep the employee's departure a secret. It’s important to give people the opportunity to say goodbye—both for themselves and for the outgoing employee.
This will also ensure there's opportunity for knowledge handoffs and the potential for gossip is limited.
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 work with 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.
You'll then need to determine who can be cross-trained to take on these tasks, either on a short-term or long-term basis.
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.
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.
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
Your departing employee should meet 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 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 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
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.
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.
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:
- Desk chairs
- Key cards and ID badges
- Parking passes
- 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.
Ensure you have clearly communicated to both your IT staff and your departing employee when their access will be cut off.
Ensure your IT or operations staff are made aware of any changes to an employee’s last working day.
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
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.
10. Address Exit Interview Feedback
There's no point in asking for exit interview feedback if you aren’t going to do anything with it.
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.
Best Practices for Offboarding
Here are some best practices for conducting effective offboarding.
Conduct Thorough Exit Interviews
It’s important to approach these interviews in a constructive manner, encouraging honest and open communication. This can help identify potential areas of improvement, celebrate what's working well and maintain a positive relationship with the departing employee.
Key Takeaway: Exit interviews are opportunities to gain honest feedback and understand the reasons behind an employee’s departure, which can be instrumental in improving the organization.
2. Ensure a Smooth Transition of Responsibilities
It's crucial to start this process well before the employee's last day to avoid any disruptions in workflow. Clear communication about the transition plan to the rest of the team is also important to manage expectations and maintain productivity.
Key Takeaway: A well-managed transition of duties helps in maintaining continuity and reducing the impact of an employee’s departure on the organization’s operations.
Setting Up for the Future
Employee offboarding is a critical process that, when handled with care and precision, can significantly benefit both the organization and the departing employee.
Offboarding is more than just a series of administrative tasks. It's an opportunity to close a professional chapter on a positive note, gather valuable insights and ensure the company's ongoing success and security.
While offboarding may seem like a straightforward procedure, its impact is far-reaching. Effective offboarding is instrumental in leaving a lasting, positive impression on departing employees, which can pave the way for future collaborations or even their return as boomerang employees.
In essence, a well-executed offboarding process is as important as onboarding in shaping the employee experience and strengthening the employer brand.
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