A Guide to Developing a Seamless Offboarding Plan

A solid offboarding plan benefits both the company and employee.
Sunny Betz
Staff Reporter
November 18, 2021
Sunny Betz
Staff Reporter
November 18, 2021

There’s nothing more exciting for an HR leader than hiring a promising new employee. Welcoming a fresh new face makes most managers feel optimistic about their teams, and the training and onboarding process keeps leaders focused on the future of their organization.

On the other hand, the process of offboarding an employee is sometimes a dreaded part of an HR team’s job. From retirements to layoffs, there are so many different ways employees leave their companies. It might seem daunting to set up a comprehensive plan, especially with the start of the Great Resignation.

There’s no way to predict when or why an employee might leave your company, however, there are ways to create an offboarding plan that makes that process easier. Gia Ganesh, VP of people and culture at Atlanta-based healthtech company Florence Healthcare, said that when it comes to offboarding, HR leaders can’t afford to be reactionary. 

“Just like the software we build, HR is also a product — every feature of the product has to be intentionally designed for the audience that it serves. Offboarding is just another feature of that product.”

“I don’t think offboarding is something that can be minimized — it’s something that has to be intentionally designed,” she said. “Just like the software we build, HR is also a product — every feature of the product has to be intentionally designed for the audience that it serves. Offboarding is just another feature of that product.”

In reality, onboarding and offboarding aren’t all that different — if you always center your employees’ well being, both can be opportunities to extend your professional network, enhance your brand and live out your company values. 

“Always treat departing team members with the same kindness, respect and courtesy that you treated them with when you onboarded them,” said Amy Zimmerman, chief people officer at Atlanta-based electronic payments company Relay Payments. “After all, they will always be your alumni, no matter the circumstances of their departure — so you either gain good will and a possible ambassador, or a former colleague with a grudge that could damage your brand. It’s your choice!”

 

Offboarding Employees
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Why Are Offboarding Plans So Important?

The tech talent crunch has kept many employers too busy worrying about hiring and retaining employees to think about their offboarding plan. But building an employer brand that attracts new talent means taking care of your employees along every step of their journey, including when they resign. 

“Your ‘brand’ is what somebody says about you when you’re not in the room,” said Ganesh. “Even though an employee may have had hundreds of good experiences with you, one bad experience can be enough to ruin your employer brand.”

“Just because someone didn’t work out, doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated disrespectfully. If that’s not reason enough to prioritize kindness, do it for your brand!”

What your former employees say about your company can affect your brand immensely — if you’re disorganized or don’t treat them well during the offboarding process, they could spread the word that you’re not someone worth working for. A messy offboarding strategy leaves employees feeling less like people and more like disposable resources, and can in turn make it more difficult for you as an employer to pick up the slack that departing employees leave behind. Just like with any HR decision, you should prioritize your people, and that means treating them with respect when they choose to leave your company.

“It’s critically important that all people-related decisions align with the company’s values if they want to build a brand known for having a great culture. Offboarding is no exception,” said Zimmerman. “Just because someone didn’t work out, doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated disrespectfully. If that’s not reason enough to prioritize kindness, do it for your brand!”

 

Offboarding Employees
Image: Shutterstock

How to Create An Offboarding Plan

Regardless of the circumstances under which you’re saying goodbye to an employee, you have to be prepared to keep the process running smoothly and to minimize potential risks or damage. Here are a few facets to consider when developing your offboarding plan. 

 

HOPE FOR THE BEST, PLAN FOR THE WORST

There’s no singular blueprint for how to offboard employees, because there are so many unique reasons why employees leave companies. The strategy you rely on when a longtime employee is retiring is completely different from the one you implement when someone is a no-call no-show. Every departing employee has their own reasons for leaving, so instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, first make sure you have a worst case scenario plan, and handle other situations on a case by case basis. Your ultimate goal should be to retain talent if possible, but for each employee you must weigh the risks alongside the benefits to determine the best timeframe and method of offboarding.

“Offboarding plans are always different depending on the circumstances of the separation. When someone isn’t performing and you choose to terminate, there’s usually too much risk to keep them at the company beyond the communication date,” said Zimmerman. “Conversely, if a strong team member chooses to move on for a new challenge with a non competitive company, there’s no reason not to allow them to continue working through their notice period and train others on their responsibilities.”

While it’s standard practice for employees to give two weeks notice before resigning, there are still cases where employees abandon their jobs without warning, which can become a logistical nightmare for leaders and fellow employees alike. But if a teammate hasn’t shown up to work, leaders shouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the employee has abandoned their role. Plan for the worst, but don’t expect it — prioritize understanding your employee’s perspective before making any hard decisions.

“There are myriad situations that could be the reason an employee doesn’t show up,” Ganesh said. “Maybe there’s an emergency situation that you need to help them through, or they have a sick family member. You need to contact the employee to try to understand what's going on.”

More on Company CultureMental Health Is a Workplace Issue. It Shouldn’t Get Overlooked.

 

be aware of regulations

When employees first start at a new job, there’s paperwork to file, company equipment to borrow, and tax forms to fill out. There are numerous other security and legal aspects employers have to consider when onboarding new employees, and all those considerations must be followed up on once those employees resign, retire, or otherwise end their employment. Once it becomes clear that an employee will be departing, you’ll need to reclaim any company assets they may have and file away relevant paperwork. Plus, make sure that your whole offboarding process is compliant with local and federal regulations so you aren’t taking any unnecessary risks.

“Understanding when certain amounts must be legally paid and in what tax manner is a must,” said Anthony Smith, the chief HR officer at Chicago-based HR tech company Elements Global Services. “In addition, companies that are working with highly intellectual property may often have NDAs or non-solicitation agreements. Ensuring that you are providing a copy of the signed agreement at the time of exit is critical to ensure that you do not have any issues arise at a later time.”

For every different offboarding scenario, there are dozens of unique legal aspects to consider. The legal considerations an HR leader must weigh when an employee leaves on good terms are very different from those that exist when the terms aren’t so positive. 

“Let’s say an employee hasn’t shown up to work and you can’t get through to them,” Ganesh said. “There’s a certain number of days you have to wait before you can classify that legally as job abandonment. If your company has to do layoffs, there are legal requirements in terms of how much separation pay you have to give. Most HR leaders are competent enough, but you should consult with attorneys to make sure you’re following the right legal procedures.”

 

TRANSFER RESPONSIBILITIES

As a company, you put time and effort into training your employees and helping them be the best at what they do. Once those employees decide to pursue opportunities elsewhere, they’re also taking a massive knowledge bank with them that can be difficult to replace. One of the biggest considerations HR leaders have to take into account is knowledge transfer — you need to hand off responsibilities so that even if a major player leaves, your team will be able to pick up the slack. 

“The best way to transfer that knowledge is by creating an opportunity for sharing stories,”

Having a departing employee write a checklist of action items can be a good start, but Ganesh said that the conversation about transferring responsibilities has to go deeper than that. 

“The best way to transfer that knowledge is by creating an opportunity for sharing stories,” she said. “Sit down with the employee and ask: What are the biggest problems that you faced? How did you solve those challenges? Who were your main collaborators? And what kind of collaboration were you involved in?” 

Opening up the conversation to hear about your employee’s experience does more than just solve your immediate knowledge transfer challenges. When you find out the inner workings of your departing employees’ role, beyond just their daily tasks, you learn what areas your whole team can improve. Don’t hand off those responsibilities to your remaining employees without explanation — loop them into the conversation as well.

“Great agile organizations do not wait to have someone leave to then start thinking about how to transfer work,” said Smith. “Here at Elements, we proactively push our talents to work on opportunities and projects outside of their day-to-day role to help build their skills and knowledge. This ultimately helps create better talent but indirectly helps create great succession planning should a talent leave the organization.”

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GIVE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Though some immediate concerns may be front of mind, HR leaders can’t afford to overlook the commitment and effort put in by their departing teammates. In the world of HR, people come first, and thanking your teammates for the work they’ve put in is a part of that ethos. Let your offboarding process show each employee that their time with you was worthwhile, and celebrate the impact they had on your company while they were a part of it.

“We often will send a really nice flower arrangement to a departing employee along with taking them out for lunch or dinner,” said Ganesh. “Just thanking them for the time that they’ve spent with the company, acknowledging them as humans, and recognizing the value they brought in that time is very important.”

 

NURTURE YOUR ALUMNI NETWORK

Even though an employee is leaving your organization, it doesn’t mean they’re leaving your circle for good. Research has shown that around 15 percent of employees boomerang back to previous roles, and keeping on good terms with past employees could prove to make the recruiting process easier for you in the future.

“Every time you have ‘boomeranged’ someone back into the organization, you have brought the same individual back with new knowledge, experience, and skills, which can greatly benefit your organization,” said Smith.

Even if your departing teammate doesn’t seek a return to your company, they could someday become a client, an investor, or could recommend you to future candidates. There’s no telling where your former employees will end up, and that’s why it’s important to keep on good terms with your company alumni. A solid, compassionate offboarding plan will help you keep those relationships thriving.

“Treat them with care and respect and offer to help them identify their next gig. Who knows, some of your former team members could very well become your company’s biggest ambassadors.”

“You saw a fit with this employee when you hired this employee,” said Ganesh. “Most fortune 500 companies have alumni groups that ex-employees can belong to, and they spend a lot of time nurturing those relationships because it maintains their brand. There’s a lot of benefits, so you want to care for those relationships.”

Many HR leaders find it hard to muster up the same excitement for offboarding that they have for hiring. Bringing in new faces is exciting, whereas saying goodbye to those same people can be stressful and taxing. But while the offboarding process might be one that you dread, it’s only as terrible as you make it. Offboarding isn’t necessarily the end of your company’s relationship to an employee — it might only be the beginning.

“Separation doesn’t have to be a hostile process. Just because someone wasn’t a great fit for the role they were in it doesn’t make them a bad person,” said Zimmerman. “Treat them with care and respect and offer to help them identify their next gig. Who knows, some of your former team members could very well become your company’s biggest ambassadors.”

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