Offboarding: What It Is and Why You Should Care.

Get a complete perspective on offboarding and learn how to design a framework for successful onboarding.

Table of contents.

All good things come to an end, and eventually, some of your employees will leave the company. It can be a voluntary exit or an involuntary exit. Either way, it's vital to ensure a smooth goodbye. To do that, it's essential to be aware of the ethical and formal aspects that relate to a good exit for both the employee and the company.

In this article, I will cover what good offboarding is, how you accomplish it and what you should be aware of in the process.

What is offboarding? 

Off-boarding is the final stage in the employee lifecycle model. This means that this stage wraps up the entire employee experience. So even though it's the last step before you say the final goodbye, you must take this step seriously, so you ensure the complete employee experience.

The six lifecycle stages and the offboarding stage

Ensuring a great employee experience is the first part of the good offboarding process. The other part is about learning from the exit. Why did the employee leave the company, and could anything have been done to avoid that? Therefore, a good offboarding process will give you valuable insights into how you can improve the whole employee experience and keep being an attractive company for your employees — more on how you can do that later.

Furthermore, a good offboarding process will minimize the impact of an exit on the company by ensuring the right knowledge transfer, task handover, etc.

How do offboarding and onboarding compare? 

While onboarding (or, for some organizations preboarding) is the first point of contact after the recruiting process, offboarding is, as mentioned, the last point of contact before the final exit. This means that onboarding is about creating a great welcome experience, and offboarding is about making a great goodbye experience.

These two steps in the employee lifecycle are somehow the opposite of each other, but they have to be treated with equal care. Just like you don't want your employee to walk into the office the first day as if nothing happened, you neither want your employee to leave as if nothing happened.

The onboarding process is, for most employees, full of uncertainties. What are my exact work tasks, how do I approach my colleagues, how do I find my fit in the organization, etc.? Likewise, the offboarding process can be a period of uncertainty for the employee as they properly want to ensure a good separation from the company. At the same time, they might feel both excited and anxious about starting their new job. This can cause a lot of different emotions to handle, so take that into account when you plan the offboarding process. Furthermore, the onboarding process comes with some uncertainties for the employer. They might wonder why did the employee really leave?

Why is good offboarding crucial?

By now, you might have gotten an idea of why offboarding matters. Below, I have listed 5 of the most important reasons why great offboarding matters and why it is crucial to take it seriously.

Ensure a complete employee experience.

We often hear that the first impression is the most important, which of course, still counts. But the last impression might be just as important. We tend to remember not what people say but how they make us feel. So, if the offboarding process is badly organized and carelessly executed, it will for sure leave us with a bad last impression that ultimately will make us remember the bad feelings it brought to our mind. So, instead, the offboarding should leave the employee in a positive state of mind and be a nice termination of the employee lifecycle.

Mind your employer brand.

When you ensure a magnificent employee experience from recruiting to offboarding, you also take well care of your employer brand. You don't want your employees to leave your company and tell friends and family about how confusing the offboarding was and that they weren't offered an appropriate goodbye. Do the opposite. Let the employee leave with grace, and show them that you have appreciated their work. Then, the chances that they will leave your company as an ambassador has significantly increased.

Attract boomerang employees.

Boomerang employees are employees that leave the company and return, typically after a couple of years. Hiring these boomerang employees can definitely have some great benefits. And hiring them becomes much easier if they had a good offboarding experience where you might have added them to an alumni network and thereby kept in touch with them. The great thing about boomerang employees is that they will get productive quicker than a completely new hire. The boomerang employees will already be familiar with the culture, the product, and maybe also the work task. This will create a much smoother transaction and a quick onboarding process.

Offboarding impact on company culture

Minimize the impact on the company.

Of course, offboarding is not only about ensuring a good experience for the employee. It's also about providing a good experience for the company. It's always costly when an employee leaves the company. The cost is mainly driven by lost knowledge and recruiting and training. But it can also harm the company culture, and other employees might start to consider leaving as well. Therefore, a good offboarding process will minimize the impact a leaving employee has on the company. Carefully planned handovers and knowledge transfers can do just that. Also, it's essential to communicate so everybody knows how the process will be and who might have to handle the leaving employee's tasks until a new hire starts.

Improve retention rates.

It is always sad to say goodbye to a valued employee. On the bright side, a good offboarding process will help you learn from the incident. Therefore, you must do your best to understand why the employee left and if you can do something in the future that can help you retain your current employees. I will go more in-depth on how you can do that later in this article.

How to streamline your offboarding process.

Building a standardized framework for your offboarding process is crucial for making it a success and ensuring that all employees get an equally good experience with their exit process. Therefore, step 1 in good offboarding is creating a process that fits your organization and its unique goals.

In this next section, I will go through a few points of awareness that you should pay attention to when creating your offboarding framework.


Conduct exit surveys and interviews.

This is the most critical part of securing that you learn and improve from the incident. It can be done in a number of ways, and we recommend that you combine them. First off, we recommend that you do an exit interview with the employee; it's a qualitative interview that will help you understand unique reasons for why exactly that employee chose to leave. It's important that you make an effort to listen more than you talk and don't try to defend the company but instead strive to understand the reason. Always try to ask open-ended questions, and don't let your assumptions on why you think the employee left show.

When conducting exit interviews, you should be aware that since the employees are not anonymous, you can't be sure that they dare to give their honest opinion. They might be afraid that speaking the truth can hurt their future relationships with the company or make it harder to ask for referrals in the future. Therefore, you should make sure to have an informal meeting and emphasize you don't judge them.

Despite your best efforts to encourage honesty, getting the employees to speak their mind might still be difficult. Therefore, you should also conduct an anonymous exit survey. You can either formulate a survey or use an existing HR tool that helps ease the process and ensure 100% anonymity.

Zoios People Analytics has a built-in function for conducting this kind of anonymous exit survey. The picture below shows you an example of how the results will look like. It can help you answer exit survey questions like:

What was the motivation for choosing a new job? What was the reason for resigning? How big a role did the compensation play in choosing a new job? How similar is the new job to the old job? And for how long time did the employee search for a new job?

Example of exit survey
Here you can see how Zoios helps you get an overview of exit reasons.

If you do both exit interviews and exit surveys, you are well prepared to learn from the employee quitting. Maybe you have been doing frequent 1:1s with the employee during their employment. In that case, you can use the data from these 1:1s to look for patterns that you think might have affected the employee’s choice of leaving. If you use all these 3 data sources, you can create a really strong picture of why the employee quit, which can be used to improve the employee engagement and experience for the remaining employees. This will most likely help you to improve retention rates.

Secure the employee’s knowledge and handover over tasks.

When an employee leaves, it's hard to avoid a loss of knowledge. Typically, you talk about two types of knowledge. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be documented and transferred to a new employee without much hassle. It can be information about clients, ongoing projects, etc. This knowledge should be written down and handed over to the new employee. In many organizations, this is a common practice and an ongoing process throughout the entire employment. Securing tacit knowledge is much more complex and challenging. Tacit knowledge is unspoked and highly embedded in the culture. One way to work with preserving this tacit knowledge is to create an active company culture that can share and reflect on this knowledge. This will make it easier for new hires to attain the knowledge.

Secure employees knowledge when they exit

An essential part of securing the leaving employee's knowledge is to design a good process for the task handover. Start by identifying all the critical aspect that needs to be transferred and then make a detailed plan on how and when a colleague or a new hire should be able to handle the task.

Can you keep the employee's network somehow?

When an employee leaves, the company will often face a loss concerning the leaving employee's network. Therefore, you should be aware of how you, as an organization, can keep connected to the network. Get the employee to map the network and ask if they can help introduce their relevant contacts to another colleague or new hire.

Offboarding: Wrap up.

For an offboarding process to be successful, it has to be seen both from the employee's perspective and the company's. First and foremost, the offboarding process should ensure a good experience for the employee so they can look back on their time with the company with joy. Not only do people deserve this from an ethical point of view, but it's also beneficial to the company in terms of employer branding and the potential for the employee to return to the company. From the company's perspective, it's essential to understand why the employee left and learn from it. Furthermore, the company should strive to minimize the impact of the incident concerning company culture and difficulties concerning the handover of tasks.


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