Employee retention

Top 5 Essential Best Practices for Employee Offboarding

Johnny Duncan
September 1, 2022
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As recent economic uncertainty looms, layoffs are on the rise while the Great Resignation simultaneously presses on. With this increased involuntary and voluntary turnover, do your offboarding processes need an overhaul?

Recruiters and people operations teams work tirelessly to attract outstanding employees, onboard them with strategic orientation and training programs, manage performance, and meaningfully recognize employee contributions. Where many organizations tend to falter is in conducting exceptional offboarding practices, if they're even conducted at all.

As we mentioned in “How to Optimize Your Employee Lifecycle,” every person you hire will eventually leave your organization. Why not embrace this graduate phase of the employee lifecycle, and tap into it as a valuable opportunity?

Here are some essential best practices you can adopt to make the most of the offboarding process and provide the optimal experience both for your organization and departing employees.

Are you struggling with high turnover? Download our free Ultimate Retention Checklist for Managers with expert advice for managers to help prevent employees from leaving too soon.

1. Make a plan

A basic template of your offboarding plan should always be in place: a customizable, dynamic document can be adapted for each specific offboarding event. The plan should include a matrix of sorts that outlines the answers to questions like:

  • Why are they leaving?
  • Who will be involved in the process?
  • Will the departing employee receive severance pay and extended benefits?
  • Who will the exiting employee’s responsibilities be transferred to?
  • How will knowledge transfer be structured?
  • When and how do we post for the vacant position?
  • Where will we look for the new talent?
  • How do we improve based on exit survey findings?

This is far from an exhaustive list. Create a plan unique for your business and add or delete items as needed. This is a basic, must-have practice for every business. Some additional resources that can assist with the planning process include an offboarding checklist and an analysis of workforce trends



2. Celebrate their contributions

If an employee is leaving on good terms and has been an asset to the company, make sure to give them a warm and memorable farewell celebrating their service and contributions to the organization. An offboarding celebration is a time to publicly highlight an employee’s impact on the business and show appreciation for their work.

It’s crucial to treat employees with respect throughout the offboarding process. Recency bias is a commonly referenced leadership mistake, but it works both ways.

The most recent experience an employee had with your organization will stand out.

Departing employees will surely tell others about their experience in your organization, and they’re more likely to speak positively about it if they receive a warm and respectful sendoff.

Although offboarding is an opportune time to uncover what made exiting employees unhappy, it is also a time to build them up, demonstrate your gratitude for their service and talents, and show support for their future. Keep the atmosphere positive and know that, regardless of their reasons for leaving, former employees can still serve as ambassadors for attracting talent as well as potential clients for years to come.

appreciate employees

3. Uncover insights

Although an employee’s exit isn’t typically something to look forward to, it is a unique and valuable opportunity to learn and improve (if the person is leaving voluntarily). 

Outside of having some exit interview questions (see below) prepared, there is no magic formula for this step, except to listen with genuine interest. Ask the employee why they are leaving, provide them a safe environment to be candid, and prepare to hear some things that may surprise you—just remember to listen attentively. This isn’t the time for apologies or rebuttals.

Ben Eubanks, in his Society for Human Resources Management blog post “Should You Celebrate When Employees Leave?”, remarks:

If we take out the resignations that are due to poor management, culture mismatch, and so on, we are left with those employees that are truly leaving to advance their careers. On one hand, this is helpful for your recruiters and others internally to see where the perceived limit is for employees in terms of development. If staff are consistently leaving around the 18-month mark, are they bored? Have they mastered ‘everything’ in terms of their job duties? Are they topped out in terms of compensation? What is driving them to seek other employment?
-Ben Eubanks

Simply accepting an employee’s letter of resignation without endeavoring to learn more about their motivations is a missed opportunity for future rectifications or changes.

Let them know how valuable their thoughts and feelings are to you and work to understand the reasons for their departure. Your notes from just one exit interview may be the keys to future success in the role they are leaving.

Are they leaving to advance their career? If so, consider how you could have satisfied that need internally for them, and how you may work to satisfy those needs proactively for current employees. Is it the work, the people, the management, or the product or service the company provides? This is crucial information that can help your organization evolve.

It's easy to make assumptions about why someone decided to leave, but those assumptions aren't often accurate or beneficial. For example, millennials have been accused of job-hopping and seeking greener pastures more often than their parents or grandparents. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Baby Boomers changed jobs on average nearly 11.9 times between ages 18 and 50. This is a remarkable statistic because it directly refutes tragically common prejudices and assumptions about generational differences in the workplace.

Nothing can replace a face-to-face chat in its ability to uncover priceless feedback from the resigning employee. 

Whether you survey outgoing employees with online questionnaires, conduct in-person discussions or both, the point is to take the initiative to find out why they’re leaving.

If employees believe their feedback will be taken seriously during an exit interview, they will be more willing to share their honest thoughts. Just don’t be alarmed if you uncover that one of the reasons for leaving is because of a supervisor or manager.

A recent Gallup study found that 52% of employees that left voluntarily said their manager or company could have done something to prevent them from leaving. 

Additionally, Forbes points out that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees who stay at the same employer for longer than two years get paid 50 percent less than if they switched to another company.

While these statistics may be eye-opening for many business leaders, they're examples of exactly the type of information that can illuminate what changes need to be made in order to prevent others from jumping ship.

Download our free Ultimate Retention Checklist for Managers for expert advice to help managers prevent employees from leaving too soon.

Example exit interview questions: 

  • Why did you start looking for another opportunity?
  • What made you decide to leave?
  • What led you to accept your new position?
  • Did the job align with your original expectations?
  • Would you change the job description for the next person in your role? If so, how?
  • What support or resources would have helped you accomplish your job better?
  • What could have been done differently to keep you employed here?
  • What did you like best and least about your role?
  • What one or two things do you think we could change to improve the company and/or culture?
  • Any additional comments?

Follow up

Now that you've collected feedback on the departing employee's experience, it's important to act on it. Can you make internal changes when it comes to professional development, promotions, pay, or perks and benefits? Are there changes the employee's direct supervisor or manager can make to improve employee experience moving forward? 

Make sure to add a step in your plan to follow up and, if you're able, implement changes as a result of the feedback you received. Otherwise, you may start to see a pattern emerge and lose more valuable employees for similar reasons. 

4. Provide support

After you’ve discovered their reasons for leaving, do what you can to help departing employees in their careers. Assign someone to personally guide the employee through the offboarding process and provide them with resources to assist in their career.

Be sure to share the contact details of your company through which the employee can remain in touch. If the employee is leaving on good terms, reassure them that your company would be happy to have them back and that they can reach out for any support in the future.

Some companies even go so far as to create alumni groups of former employees and manage social sites so that company alumni can keep in touch with one another and offer support where needed.

These programs have proven successful in improving employee engagement and recruitment strategies. According to Harvard Business Review, large companies like Microsoft, Deloitte, and Boston Consulting Group are leveraging a dedicated company alumni strategy. They facilitate communication through alumni websites, newsletters, and social media groups providing information about job openings and publicizing company initiatives.

Offer recommendations and intros for laid-off employees

If the employee was laid off due to factors outside of their control, consider proactively facilitating introductions and getting the word out that there’s a great new candidate on the market. If you've had to conduct large-scale layoffs, consider posting on LinkedIn to let your network know so they can be on the lookout for potential candidates for open roles at their organizations. 


5. Network

If the employee is leaving voluntarily, you’ve treated them with respect, and you’ve shown them that you care about their future, ask if they might know someone who would be a good fit for the position they are leaving. See if they will serve as an ambassador for your company.

Zippia recently cited a statistic that regardless of company size, over 20% of hires come from referrals despite only making up 7% of the applicant pool on average. Departing employees are more willing to send qualified candidates to your organization if their personal experience was overwhelmingly positive. Ask them to share your company values and to help bring on board people you can trust.

Bottom line: make quality offboarding a priority

Understanding why an employee is leaving is a major concern for all departments. It’s a valuable opportunity that can help improve recruitment efforts, minimize voluntary turnover, maximize and fine-tune training initiatives, and increase employee engagement.

By optimizing offboarding efforts and processes, you can learn how to increase efficiency in every other phase of the employee lifecycle. Take time to evaluate the offboarding process you have in place today and where you can improve and standardize your system. Some benefits may not be realized immediately, but your company will certainly be rewarded in the long run.

If you're looking for more culture-building resources, we've got just the thing:

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