This is the end

offboarding 2

Written by Tom Waddell

Ever heard the following:






Involuntary separation?

Staff realignment?

… if so, it means one thing,

you are being let go.


Most of us will experience having to let people leave the business due to a downturn, mis-match, relocation, etc.

The “catchy” name for this is now regarded as Offboarding (opposite of onboarding). As with onboarding if you get it wrong it can have far-reaching and damaging consequences; conversely doing it right can have many benefits.

You may well have heard of employee onboarding, but a smooth exit is just as important as a great start. The employee offboarding process isn’t just about leaving your outgoing employee feeling good – it also ensures their departure causes minimal disruption.

How many times have people left a business in an unplanned and often hasty manner, people end up running around trying to find out where the keys are, what the passwords are for protected documents, what exactly did Tom do for the key clients?

There’s a lot more to parting than simply saying goodbye.

A good off-boarding process has many benefits including positive employee referral, rehiring opportunities and positive word of mouth recommendations. The positive signal to the departing employee as well as to remaining colleagues by the sensitive handling of separation and the associated positive effects on the employee speaks well for the company and positions it as one that cares about staff well-being, leading to increased retention.

Communicate the departure

Don’t delay in letting the team know the employee is moving on. You don’t want rumours or gossip to start, this can lead to misinformation which can unsettle other staff.

Let people know the person is leaving, thank them for their service and if it’s appropriate, let everyone know why they’re moving on and who will be taking over their duties.

Make sure the employee’s direct team, managers and colleagues know what’s going on.

You may want to advise of the employee’s departure to customers if they are in a customer-facing role.

Transfer the employee’s knowledge to their successor

If you’ve developed a succession plan (and you should), this part should be relatively easy.

If not, hopefully, you’ve still got a good relationship with the exiting employee. Agree for them to transfer their knowledge and spend time with their successor where possible.

When you don’t have a successor, create documents, processes and contact lists ready for others to step in.

How you transfer and use this knowledge will depend on the role (technical, process-driven roles are simpler to document, but management processes can be more difficult to capture and remember once the employee leaves, they’re unlikely to be much help when questions or problems do arise.

Minimize disruption by being prepared. If you transfer duties to an existing employee, your task will be easier. If there is a chance of a new employee starting after the departure of the old one, you will need to plan even more carefully.

  • Will the employee train his or her replacement? What will this training consist of? Over what timescales. Who will oversee it?
  • Just where must the replacement employee begin? Presumably, there is already a job description – but there are almost sure to be processes or transactions that the new holder of the post must finalise.
  • What information must be transferred? Prepare a list of files, documents, and other information that the employee must hand over before leaving.
  • Determine and agree on the projects the outgoing employee must finalise. Set due dates and follow up.

Recover company assets

Surprisingly, many organisations fail to recover company assets like mobile phones, laptops, keys, and other equipment when employees leave.

Appoint someone responsible for recovering the items. It’s fine to ask the employee to do it, but have someone responsible (a manager, possibly IT or HR) for following up and keeping track until everything has been returned – you may well need this equipment for a new person.

Prepare a checklist and ensure the responsible person or people recover items such as:

  • Company credit cards
  • Fuel cards
  • Keys
  • Mobile phones
  • Laptops
  • Tools
  • Uniforms

If you are to consider reimbursement for any lost items explain this, particularly if any money is to be deducted from their final salary (normally this will be in their contract or they will have signed a document at a later date), be sure the employee knows in advance what is expected and what the implications are should they fail to return any items, this saves recrimination and upset further down the line.

Update your organisation structure charts and internal directory

Making reference to employees no longer with the business slows things down and confuses internal communication – particularly for new employees.

Make sure your charts and directories are up to date

If the employee is mentioned in any company material (brochures, website, training material) make sure these are updated too –  where appropriate and practical.

Revoke systems access

Cybersecurity breaches cost businesses millions of pounds every year, and a large number of those breaches are believed to be from former employees who never had their system access revoked.

Whilst this is generally an IT process, IT will need to be notified by HR to ensure they remove system access at the right time.

Don’t forget any shared accounts (shared passwords, internal systems, shared drives and so on) will also need to have their passwords updated to prevent breaches. They may have access to external sites to carry out their work, be sure to disable these (it has been known for agency staff to still have access to company job board accounts and be accessing for months free of charge).

An improper employee offboarding process can pose a security risk to the organisation. Imagine that the departed employee retained access to their account after leaving the company. Can you trust them to do the right thing after leaving? One look at the information involved (relating to organisation, staff, financials, and clients for example), will show that the risk of data theft can never be taken lightly. This is why it is important to abide by legal and compliance standards. However, this problem can be dealt with through an exit interview capturing all the legal and industry compliance requirements.

Complete final pay process

Most payroll systems have this functionality built-in, but it’s important to ensure the final pay process is carried out properly, make sure any expenses or agreed bonuses are also paid on time.

Surprisingly, in some large organisations employees aren’t always taken off the payroll system until months after they exit, this can lead to overpayments and the ultimate financial clawback can sour relations.

Communication is key here, as you’ll need to ensure payroll knows details such as the employee’s end date, notice period and any extra information they’ll need to finalise the employees’ payment

Carry out an exit interview

While the effectiveness of exit interviews is often debated, they can also uncover to some good insights into what does and doesn’t work in an organisation.

The key is to keep the questions short and to the point, encourage honesty and use the data to prevent future high performers from leaving your team.

The exit interview is important. You want honest responses from the employee who is leaving, so it is best to allocate the task to a manager who the outgoing employee trusts. Although hearing criticism may be difficult; it is important that there should be no repercussions for the negative feedback given. Instead, exit interview feedback presents an opportunity to improve employee retention in the future.

  • Ask for feedback, specifically, determine the real reasons why the employee is leaving.
  • Convey findings to the management team.
  • Decide whether any changes should be made, and follow up.

Provide letters of reference and exiting documentation

Your exiting employee may want a letter of reference, or at the very least a commitment to provide an honest reference when requested by a future employer.

Confirm what can be provided and also give the name of the person/department they can use for reference – one big frustration of departed employees is hearing that their old company has not responded to reference requests or people seeking references are being bounced around departments, leading to delays in a job offer or worse, an offer being withdrawn due to their old employer not responding.

Thank the exiting employee

Particularly if the employee is leaving on good terms, make sure they feel appreciated for their contribution.

Not only will this make them more likely to look at your company favourably in the future (never burn bridges as they could be a future supplier or client), it will also keep up morale for the rest of the team who may have negative feelings about the departure.

Farewells should be positive occasions, and they should certainly not go unmarked. Remember that the farewell also shows employees who are remaining with you that your company cares about its staff – even when they are leaving.

Departments or team members often have a “whip-round” to buy a leaving gift, consider buying one on behalf of the company, a gift certificate or something they can use if they are going to a new job.

  • Choose a thoughtful farewell gift
  • Handwrite a leaving card, signed by senior management
  • Circulate a greeting card for co-workers to add their messages and good wishes.
  • Have a farewell lunch with goodies for all
  • Don’t forget to say your thank you
  • Attend leaving drinks if possible

Engage the former employee in an alumni group

Nowadays ormer employees are more likely to ‘boomerang’ back into an organisation later on in their careers, bringing with them added experience, knowledge, and connections.

They’re also a great source for potential candidates in their network towards your roles.

To ensure these things happen, you need to make sure the employee has a positive offboarding experience.

You’re also going to need a way to communicate with them later on down the track.

Alumni groups are a good way to create a network of former employees to keep in touch with (and to advertise open positions). They can be simple to set up, and they can make the recruitment process much easier later on down the track. Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways to engage current and past employees.

Make offboarding a priority, not an afterthought

The complexities involved in offboarding make bidding goodbye to employees a taxing affair. One wrong move can ruin your organisation’s reputation and take years to repair the backlashes. Consistency and planning are the keys to success.

What are your best examples of offboarding, which companies get it right?

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