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Employee offboarding: how to create an effective process in 6 steps

September 12, 2022 - 16 min read

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What is employee offboarding?

Why is employee offboarding important?

What to include in the employee offboarding process

In the last couple of years, employers have seen a mass exodus in the workplace.

The Great Resignation catalyzed millions of workers to leave their jobs. Employees were quick to leave for better career opportunities that aligned with their purpose and values. 

Now, the white-hot job market is cooling down. Employers looking to develop and retain their top talent while also pivoting quickly to balance growth and profitability. 

The world of work is, yet again, changing. And as we’ve all grown accustomed to, change is one constant that’s here to stay. 

But one key aspect of the employee experience remains critical: companies need to stay resilient. And a key marker of building resiliency in the marketplace comes to light in the offboarding experience. 

The offboarding experience is often the last touch an employee will receive in the employee experience cycle. And if the company has left a bad taste in the employee’s mouth, there’s potential for damage. Over 10% of Americans exaggerate or lie about their experience with an ex-employer on review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Of that 10%, more than 50% say their intention was to damage the ex-employer's reputation. 

Sometimes, it’s smaller cases like bad online reviews to turn off better candidates. Or other times, there are more extreme cases where ex-employees threaten people. Or maybe it’s a misstep in the exit interview process that wasn’t addressed or offered. If you want less disgruntled ex-employees, you need an airtight employee offboarding process.

In this piece, you'll learn what employee offboarding is, why it's important, and how to offboard an employee with grace. 

What is employee offboarding?

Well, it’s the breakup stage of the employee and employer relationship.

This process sometimes involves:

  • Notifying other teams 
  • Transferring the employee's duties to a replacement
  • Collecting company equipment
  • Deleting or revoking access to accounts
  • Performing exit interviews
  • And depending on the situation, throwing a farewell party

The onboarding process allows you to engage new employees and set them up for success. Offboarding allows you to say farewell and collect feedback from exiting employees. It’s important to recognize that employee offboarding doesn’t have to be inherently negative. There are plenty of opportunities to reinforce your company values and culture, even when an employee crosses the finish line at your organization. 

Why is employee offboarding important?

Every company should have its set of core values and purpose as its guiding compass.

The offboarding experience should reflect the values and purpose that the company holds. It’s the last opportunity for the company to show care, empathy, and value to the employee leaving.

Not only does offboarding allow you to leave a good impression on existing employees, but it’s also an opportunity to reinforce that impression with the co-workers they leave behind. Here are the top five reasons why you should take employee offboarding seriously.

  1.  Drives brand advocacy
  2. Encourages boomerang employees
  3. Provides valuable company feedback
  4. Increases data security
  5. Reduces compliance risks

1. Drives brand advocacy

If your offboarding procedure for a departing employee is a brief handshake and a goodbye wave, it’s time to change that. 

Impersonal reactions like these can leave a terrible impression on the employee. That may lead to ill reviews of your organization on social media platforms and company review websites. This all negatively impacts your employer branding.

A good employee offboarding process can ensure that all departing employees leave as brand advocates. It allows you to listen to an employee's experience at your company and appreciate their contribution to the growth of the business. That way, they're more likely to speak highly of you in public after they leave.

Your current employees also see how you treat exiting employees. That builds trust in your brand. All of this will influence people's interest in working for you. 

2. Encourages boomerang employees

When employees leave a company, it doesn’t always mean that they’re gone for good. Sometimes, after working in a new organization for some time, former employees return to companies they've worked at before. 

Whether they return to their previous role or work in a new role, these return workers are called boomerang employees.

A 2020 study revealed that boomerang employees showed better commitment to a company than other staff. They took on additional projects beyond their official scope of work compared to everyone else.

As an added benefit, boomerang employees return with additional knowledge, skills, and experience. Because they're familiar with the company, rehires can start strongly compared to a brand new hire that needs more training to reach maximum productivity. 

A successful offboarding process makes departing employees feel comfortable to return to the company in the future if need be.

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3. Provides valuable company feedback

Exiting employees can give you valuable insights into the general employee experience at your organization. That's why you should conduct exit interviews with departing employees.  

During the interview, encourage the employee to provide genuine feedback about their time at your company. This discussion can help you identify your organization's strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.

4. Increases data security

About 20% of organizations have experienced data breaches by former employees. This isn't surprising when you realize that 1 in 4 employees still have access to accounts from former jobs.

As terrible as it is, if an employee's departure from a company is involuntary, they might try to hurt the company out of spite or anger. For instance, they might delete important files or upload the company's client database to a public platform. 

Some ex-workers might also scam the company's clients if they still have access to accounts. Take the case of Jason Needham who stole documents and designs worth over $500,000 USD from the engineering firm, Allen and Hoshall, after he left. 

A successful offboarding process ensures that sensitive company data stays private and secure. As part of this process, departing employees would return company-issued property and have their access to accounts revoked. The IT department may also delete or change account information for exiting employees. That will prevent employees from accessing data after they leave the company.  

offboarding-employee-leaving-with-box-of-belongings

5. Reduces compliance risks

Depending on the industry you're in, you might need to comply with certain guidelines and regulations around employee departure. 

For example, exit interviews help employers uncover any negative experiences the employee had during their time in the company. They can share experiences like racism, sexism, and workplace coercion without the worry of backlash. This way, the company can mitigate the issue before the employee talks about it in public or sues them.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also requires EU companies to delete personal data from devices when an employee is leaving. 

If you have a great offboarding process in place, it will be easier to comply with these guidelines. When your company's public record is clean and your customers know that their information is secure, people are more likely to trust your organization.

What to include in the employee offboarding process

Here are some steps to include in your employee offboarding process:  

1. Inform other teams of the employee's departure

As an employee prepares to leave, you need to inform your human resources (HR), Finance, and IT departments of their departure. These teams remove IT access, cancel logins, and process final payments.

From a relationship and connections standpoint, it’s important to maintain strong connections with other teams. For example, if an employee leaving played an integral role in a cross-functional project, how are you supporting that void to make sure the project doesn’t fall off-track? 

At BetterUp, we talk about making conscious commitments with each other, especially when working cross-functionally. To maintain strong connections with our co-workers, it’s important to clearly and effectively communicate changes (the earlier, the better). 

If an employee leaving will impact a deadline, deliverable, or project, communicate changes early. This will help alleviate any tension, gaps in bandwidth, and any surprises that naturally come with any change.

Informing them on time will hasten these processes and reduce the risk of missing a crucial step in the offboarding process. 

2. Transfer the employee's job responsibilities to a replacement

Finding a substitute for a departing employee's position can take some time. 

To avoid a drop in productivity, ‌start looking for one even before the employee leaves. This may mean hiring a brand new employee or assigning the job to someone that already works in the company. 

Once you find a replacement, you need to train them to take on the job. If possible, have the departing employee pass their knowledge of the job to the substitute. This is called knowledge transfer. 

To do this, ask the employee questions like:

  • What are the primary tasks in your role?
  • Can you break your daily work routine into steps?
  • Are there any tools or applications your successor needs training to use?
  • What files does your replacement need to have access to?

The answers to these questions will help the successor know how to pick up where the employee left off. 

Recover company property

When an employee is about to leave the company, they have to return any work-issued equipment or property. This includes:

  • Laptops
  • Mobile phones
  • Credit cards
  • Keys
  • Uniforms
  • Company cars
  • ID badges

Ideally, there should be a list that details all the assets that the company gave to the employee. This ensures that the company retrieves all items before the employee leaves.

4. Revoke access to accounts

On their last day at work, you'll need to revoke the employee's access to key accounts. Revoke access to software and applications, including:

  • their company email
  • software licenses
  • communication platforms
  • project management platforms

You should also deactivate access to entry codes and door entry security badges. 

If your company provided computers to employees, ‌delete all personal data from these devices to prepare them for use by the next employee. Otherwise, the departing employee should turn over their personal devices to the IT admin so that they can wipe all company data off of it. 

This ensures that former employees don't have access to sensitive company and/or client information after they leave. Because if private data ends up in the hands of a disgruntled ex-employee, it could result in a data breach.  

Not only are data breaches dangerous but they’re also expensive. The average cost of a data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million. Make sure you’re doing your due diligence to protect your data (and your pockets). 

offboarding-people-at-work-smiling-walking

5. Sign the paperwork and make final payments 

Depending on company policy and employee handbook, an employee may have to sign certain documents before they leave. Those documents may include security disclosures and confidentiality contracts.

After notifying your HR team of a departing employee, they'll start preparing the ‌paperwork for the employee to sign. The finance team would also plan the payroll so that the employee would receive their full pay before leaving. 

After the employee receives their final pay, the finance team would remove them from the company's payroll. 

6. Conduct an exit interview

An exit interview gives you a chance to end the professional relationship between a company and an employee on good terms. It also allows you to gain important insights that can help improve your company's work culture.

During an exit interview, ask the departing employee questions about the company's management style. Also ask about work processes, and overall employee experience. Some exit interview questions to ask include:

  • Did you have the resources and support you needed to perform your job duties effectively?
  • Did the job match your expectations when we hired you?
  • How was your relationship with your co-workers?
  • Is there anything we could have done to change your mind about leaving?
  • What is the biggest issue you think we should improve on?
  • Would you recommend this company to job-seekers? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • Would you consider returning to this company?

Encourage the employee to provide honest answers to these questions. Also, prepare to receive constructive feedback as well — whether positive or negative. Regardless of the type of feedback, attentively listen to your employee(s). Employees know if they aren’t being heard. The exit interview is an important step in the feedback process to ensure the employees’ voices are being listened to. 

Relay the information you gathered in the interview to leadership. If there are any complaints, take necessary measures to improve the problems highlighted by the employee.

Streamlining the offboarding process

Following the tips and steps above will help you organize an offboarding process that serves departing employees, existing employees, and the business at large. 

When developing your process, remember to stay receptive to feedback and open to adapting. These kinds of functions are not perfected overnight, so stay patient as you work out the kinks with your new employee offboarding process.

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Published September 12, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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