Successful offboarding strategies: 5 basics to get right

Charlotte Nicol
Published on 1st July 2020
3 min read

First impressions are everything.

They can shape an employee’s entire perception of a company. That’s why HR and People leaders often spend significant amounts of time, budget and energy crafting a great onboarding strategy.

However, how often do you stop to think about offboarding? Could last impressions count just as much as the first?

The era of ‘boomerang employees’

You will undoubtedly see some of your top talent walk out the door, no matter how hard you try. However, you shouldn’t automatically think your departing employees are gone for good.  

Organizations are beginning to see a significant rise of so-called ‘boomerang employees’, employees who come back to companies they’ve left before.

As many as two in five companies attempt to re-hire ex-employees – and the time may come when you find yourself in this position as well. 40% of employees say they’d consider returning to a company where they previously worked. While not all employees will return, by striking a great last impression it can help employees to feel able to re-apply for positions within the organization – and be welcomed back.

Furthermore, returning employees can offer greater benefits than new hires, enabling companies to recoup previous investment in recruiting, training, and development. Returning employees will have a faster time to productivity in their roles, having an understanding of the organization already.

Even if employees don’t return, a positive view of their old employer can be just as vital for your reputation as a good place to work.

So, here are five things its vital to get right in an effective offboarding strategy.

1. Start the re-hiring process right away

Once an employee has handed in their notice, there’s no use wasting time. In order to minimize disruption to the business and its operations, you must ensure a suitable replacement is available to take their place at the earliest opportunity.

It takes on average up to 28 weeks for a new employee to get up to speed, according to a study from Oxford Economics. SHRM estimates it can cost between six to nine months’ of the employee’s salary to the business.

Involving the departing employee in this process offers them one last challenge to fulfil on behalf of the company. By making them feel involved in the future of the organization, they will get to feel like they are playing an ongoing role, even when they leave.

Taking swift, decisive action in the rehiring process is important to reassure other employees too, who may feel anxious about losing one of their trusted colleagues.

2. Conduct a first exit interview a while before their last day

The exit interview is your ideal opportunity to capture your departing employee’s thoughts and feelings about the company and why they’re leaving. It’s their opportunity to speak candidly.

Unfortunately, by the time an exit interview happens, it’s usually too late to attempt to retain the employee. However, you can uncover some valuable insights as your employees are more likely to be open at this point to discussing the pros and cons of the business.

Vital to this is understanding, too. What other channels did they express these views previously? Something has not worked in existing processes if this employee has not felt listened to earlier. Ideally, it’s important for organizations to identify and address issues before they arise in this way and become reasons for employees ultimately leaving.

Not only that, it can help you to strike a positive final impression, so long as it’s timely. An article for the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Making exit interviews count’, explained that “most exit interviews are conducted during the last week of an employee’s tenure, which is probably long after he or she has disengaged.”

By conducting an interview halfway through the employee’s notice period, you are more likely to receive a balanced insight. This will help to improve the quality of your data and insights gleaned.

3. Send an exit survey

While the exit interview is useful for capturing qualitative information – allowing the employee to construct narratives relevant to their personal experience – an exit survey can improve upon your data collection by adding quantitative data to the mix.

You may wish to ask the employee to rate certain factors about the company out of 10, or even ask a question you might have asked your customers: how likely would they be to recommend to a friend? It will not only help you to determine what they didn’t like, but what they did.

Additionally, an anonymous exit survey may give the employee the opportunity to say things they might not have said in a face-to-face interview – particularly if they need to call attention to a particular colleague.

4. Sit down with their manager

The employee’s management chain is as much a part of the offboarding strategy as your HR and People team. It’s essential that they can feed back their thoughts about the employee’s departure.

This is also your chance to ensure the management team are on top of their departing employee’s responsibilities, such as creating handovers, handing back their equipment and pass, and shutting down their company accounts.

5. Say thank you

This is the most important point. The most crucial thing a departing employee should hear, and the thing they should remember most clearly, is that their contribution to the company was valued.

The bottom line: treat offboarding the same as onboarding

After leaving the organization, your former employees are likely to grow in their careers and flourish elsewhere. If you have struck a positive final impression, there’s a good chance they may one day return to your company, bringing those new and improved skills back with them.

Remember, Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, only to return in 1996 – becoming CEO just one year later. So, who knows — could you be saying goodbye for now, rather than goodbye for good?

Offboarding strategies are just one of the many factors disrupting the HR industry. Our research report, The changing face of HR, looks at all the ways the sector is changing – and what you, as HR and People leaders, need to do to prepare. Download it today.

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