Talent professionals place more emphasis than ever on creating positive employee experiences — and that pressure starts from an employee's first day. But should that same attention be given to an employee's last day? In a tight labor market, where referrals from former employees and "boomerang" employees are valuable sources of talent, HR might consider: What are the benefits of creating a strong offboarding process?
Offboarding: part of the employee life cycle
Onboarding has long been an important point in the employee life cycle, while offboarding has always been an afterthought, Jen Stroud, HR evangelist and transformation leader for ServiceNow, told HR Dive. But now, as the entire employee lifecycle is getting attention, offboarding is coming into focus, she said.
"If you have a great onboarding experience and you bring people to work for you and their employee experience and offboarding experience is poor, you spent a lot of money for onboarding that is wasted," she added.
Former employees, particularly those who left voluntarily, are ambassadors of your company's brand, Moses Balian, HR consultant at Justworks, told HR Dive. "A smooth and amiable offboarding is so valuable in maintaining employees beyond active employment," he said. "You never know when you want to rehire someone."
Offboarding may be fundamentally important to keeping potential boomerang employees feeling positive about the organization, maintaining good employer branding, establishing a network of former employees or helping current employees feel engaged despite co-workers' departures. Since offboarding is the final interaction a departing employee may have with an organization, how they're treated — good or bad — during that process can remain top of mind.
Offboarding involuntary separations respectfully
Employers may have a planned-out process for involuntary separations. Even if those employees are not the ones you'd rehire, they still should be treated with compassion, Angela Nino, founder of Empathic Workplace, told HR Dive in an interview.
"Planning for that is important, not just squeezing it into your day," Nino said. From making sure the conversation is done privately, determining if security or police will need to be on site, ensuring the employee has their personal belongings and can get to their car or has transportation home — these are important steps in the offboarding process. It's important that the termination conversation is not a shaming experience for the employee, Nino added. "Treat that person with respect and dignity, respecting the fact that [it is] about to be one of the worst days of their life."
With workplace violence as a concern, handling an involuntary offboarding process carefully is essential. "If you have been in HR, you know that the way that we treat someone on their last day of work or the way that we treat someone during a termination can be [the difference between] whether or not they bring a gun," Nino said.
But mitigating the potential of workplace violence needs to start before the termination meeting, David Moore, partner at Laner Muchin, told HR Dive. "I think it goes all the way back to the process and events leading to an involuntary separation," Muchin said. "Have we treated this person fairly? Have we given them notice of the performance or conduct issues? Have we given them fair opportunity to turn it around? Have we documented that to them so they're not able to say in their mind that 'no one told me that this was going to happen?'"
Offboarding voluntary separations: taking advantage of opportunity
An involuntary offboarding process may be prone to mistakes (i.e. benefits forms filled out and submitted), but a voluntary offboarding process is prone to missed opportunities, Balian said. Exit interviews for voluntary resignations are frequently a formality and employees don't feel their voices are heard. Balian noted that when he worked as in-house HR and conducted exit interviews, he would ask resigning employees, "are you running to or from?," to gauge their reasons for leaving. Combined with additional data gathered through surveys, this information may give HR an opportunity to identify and correct problems. Exit interviews also give employers a chance to show gratitude to the employee and interface with them on a human level, Balian said.
Just as a smooth onboarding process involves ensuring a new employee has a company ID, a workspace and appropriate equipment, a smooth offboarding process, whether for involuntary or voluntary reasons, makes sure those same details are planned for the outgoing employee, Moore said. Will the employee still receive a commission or bonus? When does the next paycheck arrive? Is severance offered? What is the benefits coverage?
Regardless of whether an employee leaves on their own or is terminated, the offboarding process can affect the employee's co-workers as well. If an employee has a poor offboarding experience and tells former co-workers, or if co-workers witness a poor offboarding process, it undermines the value the organization places on talent, Balian said.
It is critical not to think of offboarding as being in a silo or a one-off workflow process, Stroud said. "It is really about the lifecycle of an employee." Organizations that have the greatest impact have added offboarding processes to their considerations of employee experience, Stroud added. To initiate an offboarding process, start by examining the steps in the employee lifecycle and consider what actions are needed to create the best employee experience.
"All it takes is a little bit of time and investment and intention on behalf of your HR team," Balian said. "It doesn't cost anything except effort."