Employee Offboarding: How to Create an Efficient Process In 6 Steps

employee offboarding

What is employee offboarding?

For any number of reasons, workers eventually leave their job positions. When this happens, a series of actions are necessary on the part of both the employer and the employee to facilitate the exit in an efficient and tactful manner. Those actions collectively make up a process called offboarding. 

Onboarding vs. offboarding processes

While offboarding helps employees move on from an employment situation, onboarding is the process businesses use to hire and transition them into the organization, their team, and their role. Every company has a different system for onboarding new employees, but, in general, onboarding has four phases. 

  1. Preboarding. A candidate accepts their offer, and their journey with an organization begins. For most new hires, this involves a large amount of paperwork.
  2. Orientation. In their first week of work, new hires meet with HR to learn about the company’s structure, culture, and benefits. They meet their team members and get familiar with the work environment. 
  3. Training. The recent hire begins to learn their new role and the processes necessary to be successful in it. 
  4. Transition. As the recent hire acclimates to their position, they should receive constructive feedback on their work and clear communication on future objectives and expectations.

Today, employers seem to understand the importance of onboarding and place an increasingly heavy emphasis on it. After all, establishing a good working relationship and instilling the right information is critical to an employee’s success. The manner in which businesses offboard their departing team members can have just as big of an impact as onboarding, yet many still choose to do the minimum. They shouldn’t. 

Bad offboarding practices have the potential to damage a business. Treatment of indifference or resentment from HR or management can sour former employees’ outlook on their whole experience at a company and share these views with industry colleagues. Negative offboarding can also pose serious security risks, huge losses in IT assets, and lawsuits. For example, improperly offboarded employees with good intentions can inadvertently take valuable product knowledge with them.

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How to offboard employees with grace

Saying goodbye can be sad, stressful, and, in some work circumstances, awkward. A business’s offboarding process has the potential to ease a situation or exacerbate tension, especially when the employee is leaving an antagonistic scenario. For the following reasons, it’s important to develop a gracious and positive offboarding process. Here’s how. 

Maintain a positive brand reputation and relationships

There is no way to know or control how employees will discuss their experiences with friends, family, or on social media after they exit. The ease and accessibility of the latter can prove tempting when emotions run high. A respectful offboarding process that allows a worker to feel heard could mean the difference between an uneventful departure and a Twitter rant. If the employee has a significant online following, personal contacts in your industry, or — worse — legitimate reasons to feel wronged, harassed, or unlawfully terminated, your brand’s reputation could plummet.

It’s reported that Glassdoor.com, a popular employer review site, receives a whopping 55 million visitors each month. Of those visitors, 65% of them are searching and applying for jobs which means they’re researching companies and reading reviews — both good and bad. 

Waves of bad employee reviews, especially those that consistently report the same issues, are detrimental to that company’s reputation. Many businesses forget that employee and customer reviews comprise part of their web presence in addition to their official website and social media accounts.

In addition to maintaining brand reputation, maintaining good relationships with employees is also a worthwhile benefit of a gracious offboarding. Workers who return to former employers are called “boomerang employees.” Hiring them back is a win for businesses. Companies gain more experienced employees who can hit the ground running due to process familiarity, saving significant time and costs in onboarding and training. Treating employee exits with indifference is guaranteed to estrange them and prevent them from considering future career opportunities with your business.

Protect company data and intellectual property

Most organizations require employees to sign data usage and equipment compliance agreements. But this may not stop a worker who feels ignored or wronged from impulsively sharing your company’s private data with a competitor or media outlet. 

When this happens, your company can (and probably should) take legal action. It is a notoriously arduous, expensive process, however, and one that can diminish your business’s reputation in the media and your industry. Furthermore, even a successful outcome cannot reverse the information leak. Positive offboarding is an opportunity to end a business relationship on a congenial note and secure confidential information.

Preserve knowledge and expertise

Resourceful employees learn and inherit countless procedures in their tenure at an organization. Depending on the information and how it’s shared from employee to employee, there may not be a formal documentation process so the knowledge they possess can easily be forgotten in their last days at the office.  

Those departing in negative circumstances may not be inclined to pick up the phone when you anxiously contact them to obtain information you should already have. 

Establishing a thorough offboarding process prevents these kinds of emergencies. Businesses that don’t prepare for situations like these make themselves vulnerable to repeated bottlenecks and work stoppages.

Compliance with legal and regulatory requirements

One of the most compelling reasons to initiate a positive offboarding process is to safeguard your business and yourself against lawsuits. Departing employees have legal rights to:

  • Be paid any outstanding wages and unused vacation time accrued through their final day of employment (the timing of this payment varies by state).
  • A COBRA election notice issued within 14 days of termination, if applicable, to ensure they experience no gaps in healthcare. 

If your company fails to act in accordance with the laws of the countries in which it operates, even inadvertently, the fallout can lead to ugly labor disputes and tax audits.

Streamline your employee offboarding process in 6 steps

Employee offboarding is a detailed collaboration that requires, at minimum, resources from HR, IT, and various team leaders. Organization is the key to coordinating departments, people, and actions. Assemble written procedures before you begin, make detailed checklists, and set due date alerts. 

Commence your offboarding efforts or streamline an existing process with these six steps.

1. Communicate

Communication is the first place to begin when an employee tenders their resignation. Good communication is the cornerstone of any HR process, but, in this case, we’re referring to the first group of messages you send to organizational leadership, colleagues, and clients informing them of the departure. They not only convey potentially bad news for these stakeholders but also set the tone for the employee’s exit. 

When informing your in-house people of the employee’s departure, it’s important to be honest without disclosing private details about the move (like the employee’s health concerns or internal disputes, for example). This can be tricky. Firmly establish what you’re prepared to share and must withhold. Give them the departure date, and assure them that a plan is being implemented to fill the work gap. 

Do the same for clients, partners, and customers. They may have formed a working rapport with the employee that served as the basis of the professional relationship between your two businesses. Introduce them to their new point of contact, allay their fears about communication breakdowns, and develop a proactive plan to back up your claims.

2. Verify documentation

Documentation is one of the most crucial aspects of offboarding. HR and corporate mistakes can have catastrophic results for departing employees, including lapses in benefits and tax issues. Issue these documents as soon as possible, and convey to the employee that their failure to sign and return them by the due date could result in lapses in benefits for them and their families. These documents include but are not limited to:

  • Outstanding payments (including wages, vacation time accruals, commissions, and reimbursements)
  • COBRA notifications
  • 401K or retirement fund access and status
  • Tax documents
  • COBRA notifications
  • Non-disclosure agreements
  • Non-compete agreements

3. Tie up loose ends

Once coworkers learn of an employee’s pending exit, they may have concerns about the workload distribution. Listen carefully to these concerns and encourage the team lead to use them as a foundation for a checklist of items to address. 

To ensure the most thorough and efficient offboarding process for both you and your employee, their final days should focus on:

  • Finishing projects. What is the employee working on outside of day-to-day operations, and what is its status? It may take supplemental knowledge and training to transfer that project to a colleague. Get a plan in place as soon as possible.
  • Responsibility transfer. What are the day-to-day responsibilities of the vacating worker, and what software/hardware do they use? Make a plan for training and installations for the worker picking up those duties; equipment/software will almost certainly involve IT. Keep in mind that it will probably take a colleague or new employee more than two weeks to get up to speed on duties a previous person performed for years. 
  • Eliminating tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge is informal, collective information needed to carry out processes that most employees aren’t aware of. It’s possible for a long-standing employee to be the only individual who can carry out multiple operations. As older workers exit the workforce or mass layoffs continue to impact industries, work stoppages and missed deadlines are possible if this knowledge isn’t shared.
  • Streamlining your business processes is the surest method to solve the problem of tribal knowledge (in fact, it’s a common excuse business leaders give for putting off automation), but offboarding presents a final opportunity to close a specific knowledge gap. Team leads should ask all departing employees and their colleagues if there are any such operations. If so, they should be documented, cross-trained, and integrated into the remaining team’s regular duties immediately. 

4. Company property retrieval

This step is a critical one. When employees fail to return their equipment, costs — and security risks – quickly add up. If they have access to trade secrets or confidential data, they can leak that information, even unwittingly. Below is a list of items departing employees should return to a company on or before their final working day or:

  • Keys, identification passes, and access cards
  • Corporate credit cards
  • Corporate vehicles
  • Laptops and related equipment
  • Company mobile phones
  • Confidential documents

If employees work remotely and equipment can’t be retrieved on their final working day, be sure to have a plan in place for requesting returns and blocking computer/file access.

5. Exit interview

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the exit interview. It is often the final official contact a departing worker will have with their former place of employment. Many businesses do not conduct exit interviews, which tell employees all they need to know about the value of their contributions. All employees, including those whose exits are involuntary, deserve professionalism and respect. After all, they probably have valuable insights. 

Here are a few tips for a thorough and streamlined exit interview:

  • Send the employee a questionnaire to fill out and submit before the interview. This is a good way to gauge how an employee feels about their exit and vent their thoughts, allowing you to set goals for each individual interview. Allow the employee to include as much as they’d like.
  • Make the exit interview a safe space. This is the individual’s time to give their honest answers, so do not include management in the conversation. Hold the meeting in a neutral space. Engage the employee on a personal level, and show them that they are being seen and heard. Respect and accept their right not to answer some questions, should they choose not to. 
  • Ask what you could have done differently. Many workers keep a “don’t speak until spoken to” policy for fear of antagonizing superiors and losing their jobs. In an exit interview, the candid opinions of employees may finally be heard. Take the opportunity to hear their honest thoughts about your business’s practices. You will be surprised at the insight their answers provide.
  • Thank the employee for their work. Most businesses fail to do this; don’t be one of them. Show workers that the exit interview is not simply an operational duty. When a person leaves a situation feeling appreciated, it can profoundly affect their view of the entire experience, and turn them into a company advocate or ambassador.

6. Update employee records

When the employee has departed, remove their access to company digital sources as soon as possible. The longer you leave them with access to company information, the bigger the risk becomes for a security breach. Promptly remove the employee’s access to the following after their exit:

  • Company email account and calendars
  • Company databases and apps
  • Digital platforms
  • Confidential documents

The departing individual’s remaining team members and colleagues may be facing a challenging time as they see off a team member. To help them avoid confusion:

  • Update company organizational charts
  • Remove the employee from company directories and databases
  • Redirect the employee’s emails to the appropriate point of contact

3 best practices for employee offboarding

Employee exits are inevitable, especially among young professionals. If your company employs a significant number of people, offboarding is a process that will be carried out many times over the years, so it should be as simple and streamlined as possible. Fortunately, there are tools and best practices to make it easier and faster for all parties involved.

Automate steps to avoid delays or errors

Business process management (BPM) software can help streamline manual and often repetitive tasks that are critical for employee offboarding by automating them. This way, the offboarding process is set into motion once an employee’s departure is announced or shared with managers. 

This software integrates the departments involved for handling employee offboarding — such as IT, payroll, and HR — to improve visibility for all participants. One error on the part of HR or Finance can have big repercussions for a departing employee who may already be in a precarious position. Automating each step of the process essentially error-proofs it and creates a standardized experience for all departing employees. 

Must-do tasks can also be tracked in a central location. Ensure your company’s data security by creating checklists of accounts to close. Control costs by recovering issued equipment using timed reminders and overdue alerts. Finally, eliminate what is often the biggest inconvenience (repetitive manual work) by automating processes like paperwork issuance and signatures. 

Listen, learn, and grow

Time and experience will inform what works best for your organization and employees. Take feedback from exit interviews seriously; if they reveal issues that may be having negative effects on employees, investigate. This is the time to listen to what employees have to share about their experience, and an opportunity to turn feedback — whether good or bad — into applicable improvements that can benefit the entire business.

Document everything

If your offboarding process has been streamlined to an efficient and security-friendly one that provides employees with a helpful, positive exit, congratulations! Document each step in detail, creating forms and SOPs. You will be following these procedures on a regular basis. 

Note that no process is ever complete; as times change and technologies improve, new updates may be necessary sooner than you think.

Build an efficient employee offboarding process with Pipefy

From notifying stakeholders to standardizing forms, a process management and automation solution is key in optimizing and seamlessly integrating IT, Finance, and HR teams into your offboarding process. This not only minimizes time spent going back and forth between teams or tasks, it also creates a better, more streamlined experience for departing employees.

Pipefy offers a customizable offboarding template that can be scaled quickly and built to meet your team’s specific needs, like checklists to ensure critical steps are completed and automated notifications, follow-ups, and overdue task alerts to reduce manual work and prevent delays. It also integrates with existing tools, software, or applications — like Docusign — for a more connected and centralized process.

Pipefy also offers dashboards and process performance reporting so you can use your latest data to provide real-time metrics for your workforce. Tap into key insights like who is leaving your company, how often it’s happening, and why. These measurements can help uncover departmental issues and staffing gaps before they turn into problems. 

The best part? No coding knowledge or experience is needed, meaning minimal input from your already busy IT department. Pipefy puts people first, so you can take ownership of the processes you facilitate. 

We understand how important HR processes are. Instead of struggling with paperwork, spreadsheets, and email chain searches, spend your time helping make your employees’ transitions to their next chapter simpler and easier.

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