6 offboarding best practices for HR leaders to follow

An employee departure is a stressful time for the worker and the company. HR leaders should learn some offboarding best practices to maintain a positive relationship.

Although it might not be obvious, offboarding is a critical time to focus on employee experience. HR leaders must learn the best procedures to follow during offboarding and encourage other leaders to do the same so the company can maintain a positive relationship with the employee.

Ensuring the offboarding process goes smoothly can result in useful feedback from the departing employee. In some cases, a positive offboarding process can even lead to the departing worker becoming a boomerang employee, that is, a worker who later returns to the organization.

Here are some ways to make the offboarding process a positive experience, whether an employee is leaving by choice or departing involuntarily.

Best practices for employees who are leaving voluntarily

Employee resignations are likely top of mind for many HR leaders, with the "great resignation" and "quiet quitting" gaining attention recently.

Negative offboarding experiences can have far-reaching repercussions, especially in a time when hiring is difficult and ex-employees have social platforms on which to broadcast ill treatment. Here's what HR can do to prevent that.

1. Treat exiting employees well

HR leaders should behave positively toward the departing employee at all times and encourage other leaders, from the employee's manager to the CEO, to do so.

Helen Leis, head of people and organizational performance for the Americas at Oliver WymanHelen Leis

HR staff should treat departing employees with respect, dignity and kindness, said Helen Leis, head of people and organizational performance for the Americas at Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm located in New York.

If a departing employee is treated poorly after they've given their notice, they might tell friends or family to avoid working at the organization. They can also publicize their experiences on job feedback platforms. This negative word-of-mouth is likely to harm overall recruitment efforts.

2. Be open to feedback

Departing employees can be great sources of information about what is -- and isn't -- working at an organization.

HR leaders should always schedule exit interviews with employees, said Krista Mitzel, founder of The Mitzel Group, a law firm located in San Francisco.

Some organizations conduct exit interviews internally, while others hire an outside firm, such as a third-party HR consultancy, to carry them out.

The latter approach is more valuable because the departing employee is likely to be more transparent with a stranger, Mitzel said.

Krista Mitzel, founder of The Mitzel GroupKrista Mitzel

"Most people who are departing voluntarily don't want to burn bridges," Mitzel said. "Oftentimes, you won't get true feedback about what happened [if they speak with a company employee]."

During exit interviews, departing employees may provide valuable feedback about the following topics, Mitzel said:

  • the organization's compensation structure;
  • their manager's leadership style; and
  • career opportunities or the lack thereof.

HR leaders can note this feedback and use it to improve the organization as a whole.

Gaining an understanding of why the employee is leaving or what wasn't working out for them in their role is also important, Leis said.

When an employee announces their departure, Leis said, HR leaders should try to learn the following:

  • What was the employee's experience at the organization like?
  • Did they feel connected to the company's purpose?
  • Did they feel like the organizational culture helped them develop and grow?
  • Where are they headed next?

"The goal in that conversation is [to convey that] they're not a traitor and there's no judgment," Leis said. "You want to be [asking,] 'What do you want to do next?' [and] 'How do we keep a warm relationship?' so that they do consider returning, if it would make sense for them and for the organization."

3. Leave the door open for boomerang employees

If HR and other leaders respond positively to an employee's departure, the worker could end up back at the organization in the future and the company will once again benefit from the employee's contributions.

When an employee announces they're leaving, many companies take it as an affront, said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, an HR consultancy located in Norwalk, Conn.

David Lewis, CEO of OperationsIncDavid Lewis

"A lot of companies take the approach of 'Good riddance. [If] you're leaving, you're disloyal, [so] get out,' even [toward] the people who have made the company immensely successful," Lewis said. "The level of bitterness and anger overwhelms the logic of what it is you're supposed to do strategically here."

Instead, leaders should celebrate the departing individual's contributions as well as the employee's next step in their career.

HR leaders should also encourage others to tell a departing employee that the door is open, should the worker consider coming back, Lewis said. In a still-challenging labor market, alienating a departing employee who performed well -- and who may solve hiring challenges down the road -- doesn't make sense.

"You know them, they know you, and they know the style and culture," Lewis said. "Those people hit the ground running in three weeks, [while] the perfect [new] person doesn't have that history, so [you] may be looking at three months or a couple of years to be able to get them to that level."

Staying in touch with employees who have left the company can help bring in boomerang employees.

"[An] alumni network can pay dividends, whether they come back to you as an employee or not," Leis said. "They can become customers [instead]."

4. Consider offering a separation package

Even if an employee is leaving on good terms, HR leaders should still make sure to protect the organization.

An employee who is leaving amicably may still file a lawsuit against the company, Mitzel said. Departing employees should sign a separation or severance agreement.

Taking care of that now will avoid problems down the road.

Best practices for offboarding laid-off or terminated employees

Employees who are departing involuntarily still deserve respect, even if their performance was poor or they wound up being a bad fit for the job.

"I always joke [that] you want to love them on the way out," Mitzel said. "You want them to be able to say, 'You know what? That job didn't work out, but I really felt respected and was treated gracefully on my exit.'"

Here are several best practices for offboarding employees who are departing involuntarily.

1. Give the reasons behind performance-based terminations

Managers will often use vague language when they're telling an employee that the employee is being terminated, but unclear communication does more harm than good. HR leaders must instruct them on best language to use about the termination.

A lot of companies take the approach of 'Good riddance. [If] you're leaving, you're disloyal, [so] get out.' … The level of bitterness and anger overwhelms the logic of what it is you're supposed to do strategically here.
David LewisCEO at OperationsInc

If an employee is being terminated because of their performance, managers should be upfront about that and avoid saying that the individual just isn't a good fit for the organization, Mitzel said.

"'Not a good fit' can be code for a lot of things that are way worse than 'You didn't hit your deadlines' or 'You were rude to customers,'" Mitzel said.

In fact, the individual may interpret "not a good fit" to mean that their gender, race, age or other personal trait was the cause of problems at the company.

"When you don't give them a concrete [reason], it lets their mind wander, and the story they're going to come up with is going to be way worse than the truth," Mitzel said.

2. Provide resources for their job search

Helping a terminated employee find a new position is a thoughtful gesture and will likely improve the employee's impression of the company.

HR leaders can set an employee up with the following services to help the employee find a new job, Mitzel said:

  • access to career counseling;
  • access to resume-writing training; and
  • a subscription to LinkedIn Premium, which can help their job search.

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