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It’s never easy saying goodbye to an employee. No matter the reason for the departure – be it a layoff, end of contract, retirement, or resignation – there is an onus on every organization to treat these moments with respect, empathy, and importance.
But if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that many companies still need to do a lot of work in the arena of offboarding. Twitter’s notorious mass layoff event in the wake of Elon Musk’s controversial takeover is just the apex in a series of examples of how NOT to let people go. Impersonal, unfeeling, lacking structure, and failing to recognize the gravity of the situation, the nature of these layoffs not only negatively impacted the employees themselves, but also the organization as a whole.
Employee offboarding is a fundamental stage in the life cycle of every worker. When done well, it can build your employer brand, provide you with invaluable feedback, and even boost your talent pool. So why is it treated with such little regard?
Offboarding is just as important as onboarding
Companies put loads of effort into onboarding new employees – as they rightly should! We know that an effective induction program can lead to better engagement and a higher likelihood of retention, but why isn’t the same credence given to the offboarding process?
The simple answer is that many organizations feel like they have nothing to gain when an employee leaves, and as a result, are less likely to optimize offboarding in the same way they do with onboarding. But this is very shortsighted.
If we consider onboarding as the first stage in an employee’s journey through a company, offboarding is the final act. And given that the average job tenure for workers in the US is 4.1 years, it is also an inevitability for the vast majority. Offboarding is an essential process – one that should not be ignored, especially given its extensive impact:
- Employer brand: Every single person that works for your organization is a walking advertisement for your brand – do not overlook the significance of that. A successful and empathetic offboarding can create a sea of organic brand ambassadors.
- Future customers: Past employees could be valuable customers if you leave on good terms, particularly given their already ingrained knowledge. LinkedIn, for example, enables alums with a free premium subscription to their platform.
- Referrals and boomerangs: Goodbye doesn’t have to mean forever. Always keep the door open for returning talent – they will bring increased experience and insights. Or if people don’t return themselves, they’ll be quick to recommend future candidates if they still have confidence in the organization.
- Feedback: Targeted change can’t happen without honest feedback. And often the feedback received during offboarding can be the most valuable. Honest, constructive feedback can help you identify symptoms of larger systemic problems, giving you and the organization an opportunity to course-correct if needed.
The non-negotiable elements of offboarding
Regardless of how an employee is leaving a company, your offboarding procedure should look to not only be compliant and straightforward, but be seen as an important moment of transition. In his SocialTalent training on The Power of Moments, New York Times bestselling author, Dan Heath, says:
“Hiring processes are filled with moments of transition. These moments can be memorable, whether it’s for a positive or negative reason. And as a hiring manager, having the ability to turn these transitions into meaningful moments is critical.”
And the same can be applied to offboarding. This is an opportunity to make another good impression. Even in difficult situations, people are more likely to appreciate the effort and transparency of a goodbye that values who they are, not just as an employee, but as a human. So what ways can offboarding be made that bit more memorable and positive?
Nothing clouds an experience like uncertainty. And given how emotionally charged the period of offboarding can be, it’s vital to ensure that communication is clear. Employees will have lots of questions and concerns, so it’s important that HR and managers are prepared with the answers. Common concerns often relate to final dates, handover information, or issues relating to pay or holidays – have this information to hand. Another aspect to keep in mind is how to announce that an employee is leaving. This is something that should be collaborated on so that the person feels comfortable in the approach taken.
The exit interview
The exit interview is essential. Usually run by HR, this process is your opportunity to glean the kind of feedback we mentioned previously. But it also gives you a chance to recognize and appreciate what the employee has contributed to the company during their tenure. A perfunctory ‘thank you’ won’t mean as much as some authentic, unique gratitude.
Don’t lose touch with past employees. An active alumni network is a great way to maintain a level of connection. BCG, Microsoft, and Deloitte all use social media, dedicated websites, and company newsletters to keep former employees in contact with the organization. And in more recent times, Stripe, who also had to layoff considerable numbers of staff, created unique alumni emails that employees could use moving forward.
In the case of layoffs
Emotionally charged and fraught with difficulty, layoffs can come as a crushing blow and they need to be handled with care. However, in a survey of 1,000 workers who had been laid off, Job Sage found that 65% said their employer could have handled the situation better. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Give as much notice as possible – out of the blue serves no one.
- Ensure leadership provides accurate, authentic context.
- Take ownership of the situation.
- Recognize the work that has been done.
- Let impacted workers know about severance packages.
- Consider giving them access to recruiters or career experts.
- Show empathy.
- Offer as much assistance as possible.
Leaving a job is a scary experience. But organizations have the capabilities to make the transition as smooth and compassionate as possible. Remember – an amicable end can be of huge benefit to both parties.