Employee Offboarding — An Employer Branding Powerhouse And An Easy Opportunity To Boost Your Branding

November 17, 2020
by Damian Keane

If you’re treating employee offboarding as an afterthought, you’re most likely definitely hurting your employer branding efforts. 

Regardless of their reason for leaving (termination or voluntary departure), you can bet those ex-employees will have something to say about your organisation. Whether that something is good or bad largely depends on how they remember their last few days.

Bad breakups are the worst, aren’t they? You sit there, stunned, flicking through the images in your mind, trying to tally all the real (and imagined) grievances while downing your fifth beer (or a strong liquor of choice, of course).

And then you meet up with your friends, and you let all of that out…

… all the times you’ve felt invisible, unappreciated, or taken for granted…

… those countless moments you’ve put in extra effort but got nothing back…

… all that effort you’ve poured into making things work that lead to nothing…

Well, this probably won’t come as a surprise but… your ticked off ex-employees also talk. They tell their side of the story and share their work experiences. And what they say has an impact on how job seekers perceive your organization.

What’s worse, ex-employees often take to social media and business review sites to vent. With a single post, they can invalidate years of hard work that you’ve put into building a recognisable employer brand.

[Recommended reading: The Ultimate Guide to Employer Branding

In today’s post, we’re going to talk about the steps you need to take to ensure an ‘amicable’ break-up with your exiting employees. This is done through a process called employee offboarding, and it’s critical that you get it right.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

Let’s dig into it!

What is Employee Offboarding (& Why It Matters)?

Employee offboarding is a process during which an employee exits an organisation. It’s everything that goes (or doesn’t go) into their official departure from their role.

Now, if you don’t have a formalised employee offboarding process, you might be under the impression that you ‘don’t actually do offboarding’.

That’s not true.

Employee offboarding happens whether or not you’ve taken the time to spell it out and codify it (just like employee onboarding).

[Recommended reading: 5 Onboarding Tips That Boost Employee Engagement & Retention]

Only, when you don’t codify it, it (generally) happens in a way that's bad for you.

The purpose of an employee offboarding process is two-fold:

  • it helps an organisation improve their hiring practices and employee experience in an effort to keep existing (and future) employees engaged, productive, and committed; and
  • it allows an organisation to leave a memorable positive impact on the exiting employee, which can benefit the organisation’s employer brand and image.

A formalised employee offboarding brings real value to your organisation.

Unfortunately, even though some businesses see that, almost 75% don’t (at least, according to this survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group).

Offboarding Checklist-02-02

And you definitely don’t want to side with the majority in this particular case.

Where’s the Connection Between Employee Offboarding & Employer Branding?

Imagine dealing with a top-performing employee who’s just told you they’ll be leaving in 30 days.

You thank them for the notice, instruct them to consult with their manager to hand off their duties, and then you promptly forget about the whole thing.


Now they’re growing resentful. 

You didn’t ask why. You didn’t try to understand their reasons. You didn’t make an effort.

You see… where you had a valuable member of the organisation that you might have been able to persuade to stick around, you now have a disgruntled, soon-to-be-former, employee.

This could have been avoided with a formalised offboarding process, where:

  • you would get insights you need to tweak your retention and hiring practices, and;
  • they (and their colleagues) would know how things play out during the next month.

There’s a chance now that this (previously satisfied) employee goes out, and tells the world how badly they’ve been treated. We both know they weren’t — but their last (and memorable) experience in your organisation didn’t leave a good taste in their mouth.

So they fire off a particularly scathing review on Glassdoor.

Offboarding Checklist-03

All your paid ads on Facebook… all your employer branding efforts on LinkedIn… everything that you did so far to signal to top-level job seekers that your company is the company for them… 

It’s all now jeopardized.

And that’s a relatively satisfied employee, one who actually went out on their own terms. 

Imagine if that were someone you had to terminate? What kind of story would they have to tell? And what kind of damage could they do to your employer branding efforts?

4 Extra Reasons to Focus on Employee Offboarding

I understand the mental groan that escapes you when you read about stuff that results in more workload.

You’re busy… you don’t want to add things to the pile.

But, because employee offboarding is so critically important, I want to share four more reasons why you’ll benefit if you decide to do it the right way.

  • Boomerang employees are a thing I’ll really milk this relationship analogy and say — as divorced couples sometimes get remarried, so employees and organisations occasionally reconnect. Especially in highly-specialised industries (and if we’re talking about top talent). This is good for you as it means less training, fewer costs, and increased productivity. But… that offboarding experience needs to be on-point if you want to keep that particular door open.
  • Happy (ex) employees are valuable ambassadors your ex-employees are networking with people you might want to attract. This is especially true if you’re in a very specialised niche (or they are). So make that last impression work for you — ensure that people recommend your organisation instead of warning others about it.
  • They can even become customers at one point or they already are, depending on your line of work. Are you ready to lose a customer? Especially one that could have been your loudest, most fervent customer advocate? No? Then make sure to part ways respectfully and amicably.

[Recommended reading: The Ultimate Guide to Customer Advocacy]

  • Every loose ex-employee is a security riska survey conducted by Druva found that 13% of organisations are aware of the fact that ex-employees still have access to their data. Now, I’m not saying that yours is one of those organisations — but are you 100% sure that you’ve deprovisioned everyone who’s ever walked out or been terminated? Especially if that’s not outlined in your (often non-existent) employee offboarding process?


A 9-Step Guide to a Successful Employee Offboarding Process

Chances are that you’ll never be 100% happy with your employee offboarding process. That’s more than okay — as long as you make an effort to have a process in place, and to tweak it as needed.

Here’s a solid 9-step plan to effective offboarding (that you can totally swipe if you’re not feeling inspired to come up with your own right now — you can even download it as a summarised PDF checklist below).


Download Your Offboarding Checklist


1- Create a Quick & Rough Offboarding Checklist (for Various Scenarios)

Don’t play things by the ear because every exit is different.

Here are some things you should include in your checklist, so you’re reminded about them:

  • Reason for leaving (voluntary or termination) — tailor the experience to the reason, and brace for dealing with some unpleasantries if we’re talking about termination.
  • Get a resignation notice (or prepare a termination notice) — write this down, sign it, and have the employee sign it as well (give them their copy).
  • Schedule an appointment to iron out the details of their exit (the practical stuff — when, how, will their support be expected, who is best suited to take over their duties, etc.).
  • Inform other departments about the exit (IT and payroll), and get input from them on what needs to be handled (access, accrued leave, backpay, company credit cards, etc.).
  • Review signed agreements (non-disclosure, non-compete, confidentiality), and make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Take care of the final paycheck — if possible, release it early. The employee will appreciate it, and you can immediately scrub them from the payroll list (without risking that you’ll forget about that down the road).

You’ll probably want to include more (depending on the situation and the nature of the exit, such as discussing benefits and similar), but these are the ones you want to go through with every exiting employee.


2- Say ‘Thank You’ Early & Often

Even when fired in awful circumstances, employees like to hear a: “Thank you for all your hard work so far”.

It’s such a game-changer when a manager acknowledges someone’s contributions. And it’s what makes a difference between a good manager and a great manager. In fact, praise is the most effective way to motivate people (according to a survey by McKinsey):

Offboarding Checklist-04

A ‘Thank You’ costs nothing but packs a real punch. Let it roll off your tongue often. 


3- Communicate the Exit

When someone’s leaving, you don’t want the office grapevine to take over.

Your employees will fill in the gaps they don’t know, and in a second, a voluntary departure turns into a violent termination (at least, in their heads).

Avoid that by telling people why someone is leaving, what’s going to happen in the meantime, and then end on a positive note.

That positive note is… 


4- Celebrate the Employee’s Achievements

There are some rare circumstances when celebrating an ex-employee is not possible (they’ve been fired for gross misconduct, inappropriate behaviour, theft, or similar).

In all other cases, make a conscious effort to make them feel good about their time in your organisation.

Email the employee’s team, organise an impromptu office party, and surprise them with a farewell present. Schedule this close to their last day in the office so the memory stays fresh in their mind. 


5- Transfer Duties & Knowledge

One of the key elements of every employee offboarding process is setting up a reliable routine for knowledge and duties transfer. This routine will vary from position to position, but you want it to include things like:

  • how does their day-to-day look — what’s the most effective way for a person taking over to complete their daily tasks (and how should they be prioritised);
  • what systems, files, and tools are crucial for the new employee to get familiar with (and is it necessary for the exiting employee to provide a bit of training);
  • key stakeholders for the role — identify the most important people that are crucial for the role, and make introductions early in the transfer process;
  • in collaboration with the exiting employee, create videos (Loom is good for this) that will guide new hires through more complicated tasks (add these to your  onboarding/training database);
  • see if some things can be automated (at least partially) so that things don’t grind to a halt while you’re training a new hire.

6- Revoke Access & Recover Assets

Set up a meeting with the IT and finance department to go through everything company-related that the exiting employee is still using:

  • server-side tools
  • cloud systems
  • paid ongoing trainings

(For tools, think things like Slack, SalesForce, SAP, and similar, but don’t forget to revoke access for social media platforms if the employee is someone from marketing or comms.)

When it comes to assets, you’ll want to cover things like:

  • company car
  • laptops
  • smartphones
  • keycards
  • credit cards
  • uniforms

(Check your contracts — the employee might be required to cover expenses for damaged or lost items. For minimal value things, it’s best to write things off to avoid conflicts).


7- Conduct an Exit Interview

This is likely the most important step in the employee offboarding process — provided you ask the right questions and know what to do with the answers you collect.

An exit interview allows you to home-in on the why of the departure. In the end, you’re left with a list of strengths and weaknesses you’ll want to take a look at to increase your retention rates.

Offboarding Checklist-05

Here are some questions that you should ask:

  • What (if anything) would you change about your role?
  • What are we not doing right (and how can we improve on that)?
  • If we could do one thing to make you stay, what would that be?
  • Is there a manager in the company that you really admire?
  • What’s the one thing you looked forward to when coming to work?
  • What was the least fun thing about the organisation?
  • How could your relationship with your manager have been improved?
  • Would you recommend the company to your friends and peers?
  • Is there anything you would change about our onboarding process?
  • Is there anything you would change about our employee offboarding process?

8- Be Helpful & Offer Resources

This is where the magic synergy between employee offboarding and employer branding really happens.

For the most part, organisations wrap things up after conducting exit interviews.

But what if you didn’t end your relationship there?

What if you offered additional resources to your ex-employees, regardless of whether they’ve been terminated or they’re leaving voluntarily?

For example, you can offer that they stay included in your employee/customer advocacy efforts. If you have an advocacy platform in place, they could have access to the dashboard so they can share company news. 

You could also give them a glowing reference letter… include them in your database in case a role comes up they would be more suited for (or prefer working in)... recommend them to your own network of peers and collaborators.

These are all options that are low-cost, high-impact. And ex-employees appreciate them.

In some cases, you can even go above and beyond, and offer additional training to those people you’re reluctantly letting go. For example, you can organise workshops in writing or social media management for marketing employees. An expert workshop cost is in the low $1000s, so you’re not spending too much. And the employees are getting a marketable new skill + another reason to feel good about their time in your organization.


9- Stay in Touch

Talk to your marketing team and set up a segmented list of ex-employees.

It’s small. It’s vetted. And it’s not labour intensive. But it allows you to stay in touch, and share company news from time to time.

With this minimal investment, you get to:

  • easily connect and disseminate promotional info;
  • access employees you might have some questions for in the future, and;
  • promote your open positions to a pool of qualified candidates.

Alternatively, you can set up an alumni group on Slack for those ex-employees that want to stay in closer contact with their former team members. Those who opt for this are signalling that they might not be too hard to lure back if a better opportunity presents itself.

Offboarding Checklist-06

Mckinsey’s Alumni Group is 35K+ strong (& has a massive ROI)


An Efficient Employee Offboarding Process for the Win

I’m going to go against the grain here and say that employee offboarding is (almost) as important as employee onboarding.

You see, with onboarding you get a few shots. If the employee is not settling in, you can try a couple of different tactics. Heck, you put existing employees through an onboarding session years after they’ve been hired — it’s a chance to retrain them in certain aspects of their job description.

But offboarding is different. 

You only get one shot. And you want to make sure you nail it because that particular ex-employee could become an important asset. They could become a trusted partner. Or a huge customer. Or your most vocal advocate.

To increase the chances of that happening, use employee offboarding to strengthen and protect your employer brand. It’s a simple, straightforward process that keeps on giving!


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