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Boomerang employees drive interest in offboarding tools

Boomerang employees, workers who leave a company and later return, are leading HR departments to seek out offboarding tools that do more than automate manual processes.

At an annual HR tech conference in Las Vegas, Shri Iyer, senior director of product management at outplacement firm RiseSmart, went hunting for offboarding tools. The offerings were thin, he said.

The offboarding tech at the conference "was merely a checklist," Iyer said, and it was designed to ensure that the necessary offboarding steps were taken by HR. "There's not much love being offered on the offboarding process by some of the key industry players," he said.

But Iyer also believes that this attitude is changing because of rehiring and recruiting.

"An employee departing who has a great [offboarding] experience may be a future employee," Iyer said. "Their experience really matters and resonates with friends and colleagues who might be prospective employees of the same firm."

Iyer is not alone in arguing for the importance of HR offboarding tools, and this shift in attitude may be a consequence of the increasing use of onboarding tech. Many organizations believe a good onboarding experience improves employee engagement and reduces first-year turnover risk. Now, they're pushing to provide a good offboarding experience, as well.

Former employees remain important

Employees leaving a firm, whether voluntarily or as part of a reduction in the workforce, should still be seen as brand ambassadors, customers, sources of business connections and employee referrals. Some may become boomerang employees who leave a firm for some reason but are ultimately rehired either as a salaried or contract worker.

Indeed, Rae Shanahan, chief strategy officer at benefits technology firm Businessolver, said internal research found that about 17% of their clients' employees are boomerang employees.

"That's a pretty significant number," Shanahan said. "But why don't people focus on making sure that the transition out is a positive one?"

Right now, offboarding is really just about automating a lot of manual processes and the time savings that can come from that.
Trevor Whiteanalyst, Nucleus Research

Younger workers, in particular, are more likely to shift jobs after a few years. The average tenure for workers age 24 to 34 is 2.8 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in a recent report on employee tenure in 2018. This has been a fairly consistent rate over the last decade.

Offboarding tools today are basic in nature.

"Right now, offboarding is really just about automating a lot of manual processes and the time savings that can come from that," said Trevor White, an analyst at Nucleus Research.

Onboarding tech as inspiration

But White said that some organizations using HR onboarding to improve front-end processes now want to apply similar concepts to back-end offboarding processes.

The increased use of data analytics in HR, and the possibility of collecting more data from exiting employees via exit interviews and other means, is another reason employers may be interested in more sophisticated offboarding tools, according to White.

"I think we're really at the beginning stages" in the evolution of offboarding tools, White said.

But not everyone is convinced that technology will make a dramatic difference in offboarding.

"We haven't found that the technology resources significantly alter what it takes to go about offboarding," said Steve Spires, managing director of career services and a senior executive coach with the BPI group, an outplacement firm.

Offboarding isn't just about the employee

Process mistakes in offboarding can be expensive. A Colorado hospital is paying the U.S. government $111,400 and taking a series of corrective actions to settle potential violations of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules.

The settlement resolved a complaint that a former employee of Pagosa Springs Medical Center had remote access to the hospital's web-based scheduling calendar, which contained protected patient information. The hospital "failed to deactivate the former employee's username and password following termination of employment," according to the agreement announced Dec. 11, 2018, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As part of this settlement, HHS also released a 10-page corrective action plan that obligates the hospital to take a series of steps to improve its processes. These steps include a risk analysis, the development of a risk management plan, as well as a related training program for employees.

Customized work is still part of offboarding

Spires said that while the offboarding process can be helped by technology, offboarding often requires a lot of individualized, customized work and document preparation.

For example, improving the experience for people getting laid off is complex, Spires said, citing, in particular, the need to make sure managers are trained to do the job correctly.

Regardless, "the worst thing they [employers] can do is make a poor impression when they [employees] exit," said Deepak Bharadwaj, vice president and general manager of the HR product line at ServiceNow Inc.

Last year, ServiceNow offered its enterprise onboarding and transitions service, which is designed to help improve the efficiency of offboarding processing, particularly because it often involves multiple departments. Bharadwaj said integrated tools can be a source for HR analytics, such as measuring how quickly assets are returned and finding process bottlenecks.

Ultimately, firms that try to make a good first impression during onboarding ought to make a good last impression as well, said Jen Stroud, HR evangelist and transformation leader at ServiceNow.

"You really want to ensure that when people are leaving your organization, they're leaving on as positive a note as possible," Stroud said. "It's a small world, and word gets around."

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