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The offboarding process: how to ease the transition for your team

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

September 02, 2022

Think about the last time you changed jobs. Chances are, your old employer handled the transition in a less-than-stellar way. Maybe, they didn’t give you enough notice, or they didn’t provide adequate training for your replacement. Maybe, they just made you feel like a burden instead of an asset.

The employee offboarding process is one of the most important — but often overlooked — aspects of HR. Done well, it can be a smooth and painless process for both the employee and the company. If done poorly, it can lead to tension, resentment, and even legal action.

So, what is offboarding, exactly? Let’s take a closer look at what it is, why it matters, and how to do it well.

What is offboarding?

Offboarding is the process of transitioning an employee out of a company, whether they’re leaving voluntarily or you’re letting them go. Offboarding includes everything from giving notice to cleaning out workspaces to debriefing their replacement.

Why is a good offboarding process important?

Offboarding is often seen as a negative process — something that happens when an employee leaves voluntarily or not. But even in those cases, offboarding can be an opportunity to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.

Use the offboarding process as an opportunity to thank employees for their service and help them transition to their new roles. Being supportive can prevent hard feelings and ensure the departing employee remains a positive ambassador for the company. Former employees who are well-treated are more likely to speak well of the organization, which can result in a good reputation that attracts top talent.

It can also help the departing employee transition to their new role (whether that’s at a new company or retirement) and minimize the impact on the company, both operationally and legally. In cases where an employee is being let go, properly documented offboarding can help minimize the legal and financial risks to the company.

Why you need an offboarding process

So, you’re sold on the benefits of good offboarding. Now, you need a process to make that a reality. An offboarding process is important for two overarching reasons:

1. It’s the law

Many jurisdictions have specific laws and regulations governing the termination of employment. An offboarding process can ensure the company is in compliance with those laws, minimizing the risk of legal action.

2. It’s good business

A well-executed offboarding process can help the company retain top talent and prevent bad blood between departing employees and those who remain.

Having an offboarding process in place also makes the transition easier. Here’s how:

  • It provides structure: with a well-defined process in place, you’re less likely to miss anything important. Offboarding someone without checking out all the right boxes could result in a stressful situation at best and legal action at worst.
  • It sets expectations: offboarding can be a difficult time for both the departing employee and colleagues who remain. Having a clear process in place helps to set expectations and minimize surprises.
  • It protects the company: as we mentioned above, an offboarding process can protect the company from legal action. But it can also be an official way to ensure the departing employee returns all company property and signs non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from sharing company secrets.
  • It shows respect: offboarding is often seen as a cold, impersonal process. But it doesn’t have to be! Done well, offboarding can be a way to show respect for the departing employee and thank them for their contributions to the company. Standardizing the process ensures this is the case every single time.
  • It’s a way to collect valuable feedback: the offboarding process is an opportunity to collect feedback from departing employees about their experience with the company. Use this to improve the company’s operations and make it a more attractive place to work. (Top tip: for best results, put some careful thought into the questions you ask.)

When should you start the offboarding process?

The offboarding process should begin as soon as you’ve agreed on the departure. This may be when an employee gives notice of their resignation, or it may be when the company decides to terminate their employment.

The sooner the offboarding process begins, the smoother it will go. Why? Because there are so many details to manage, such as returning company property, debriefing the employee on company secrets, and finalizing severance pay. Starting the process early allows you to take care of all the details in a timely manner.

How to offboard: a step-by-step guide

Whether you’re new to offboarding or want to fine-tune your current process, here’s what you need to do.

Stage 1: prepare

As soon as an employee hands in their notice or the company decides to terminate, it’s time for the HR team to jump in and kickstart the process.

  • First, get the resignation/termination letter in writing. A formal signed letter or email is customary.
  • Next, schedule an exit interview. This meeting is important for understanding the reasons for leaving and what, if anything, could have been done to keep them. If the departing employee is in a managerial or highly sensitive position, it might be worth conducting a debrief too. This will help mitigate any risks to the company, such as theft of intellectual property or damage to client relationships.
  • Notify the team. It’s time to share the news with the rest of the team, but be respectful and avoid any office gossip. The message should come from a senior member of staff or HR, who can provide opportunities for the remaining staff to ask questions privately afterward.
  • Notify the clients. If the employee works closely with clients, it’s important to let them know about the departure in advance. This will help ease the transition and prevent any disruption to client relationships.

Stage 2: paperwork

Once you’ve made the initial announcement, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and take care of all the necessary paperwork.

  • Prepare final pay, tax, and other compensation. This includes final salary, vacation pay, sick days, and any other benefits or bonuses that may be due. You also need to issue tax forms and get sign-offs on any company property.
  • Update records and contact information. Your HR team will need to update all employee records, both internally and with relevant external bodies, such as the government or health insurance providers. They will also need to remove the employee from any company email. It’s important to get this right to avoid any legal issues down the line.
  • Review contracts and NDAs. Check that the departing employee is not breaching any non-compete clauses or NDAs. If they are, you may need to take legal action.

Stage 3: plan the work-handover process

Losing an employee will always be disruptive, but managing the process well lowers the chance of serious disruption. Here’s how.

  • Plan the handover. The first step is to identify what tasks/responsibilities to hand over and who is best positioned to do it. This will vary depending on the company and the role in question.
  • Next, you need to create a handover schedule. This is an agreement between the departing employee and their manager. Be sure to provide enough time for a thorough handover without disrupting the rest of the team.
  • Identify any training needs. This will vary depending on the complexity of the role and the company. It might be as simple as a quick run-through of key processes, or it might require more formal training.
  • Make sure you have a plan for covering the employee’s workload in the meantime. Consider whether you need to redistribute their work among the team, hire a temporary replacement, or bring in external help.
  • Make sure all the relevant information is available. This includes any passwords, access codes, or contact details that the departing employee will need.

Stage 4: the final days

The final days before an employee leaves can be emotional, both for the employee and their colleagues. Here are some tips on how to make the most of them.

  • Create a to-do list of final deliverables. A checklist will help the departing employee focus on what’s important and avoid any last-minute surprises.
  • Encourage team bonding. Use the opportunity to get the team together for a farewell lunch or after-work drinks. This can help boost morale and build team spirit.
  • Encourage the departing employee to plan a speech. A short speech from the departing employee can help to say goodbye in a positive way. It’s also a chance to thank them for their contributions and wish them well for the future. Give them a fair bit of notice, so you don’t add to their stress.

Stage 5: property and access

Once you have a date for the exit interview and final day, it’s time to start thinking about company property and access.

  • First, identify what company property needs to be returned. This includes laptops, phones, credit cards, keys, and any other company-owned property. Make sure you keep a record of each item.
  • Next, remove the employee’s access to any company systems. This includes email, social media, cloud storage, and any other software or websites they use for work.
  • Finally, update any passwords or security codes. This includes office alarm codes, safe combinations, and building access cards.

Stage 6: update your records

After the employee leaves, it’s time to update your records and reset accounts.

  • Update your personnel records. Change the employee’s status from ‘active’ to ‘inactive’ where necessary, and remove their personal contact details from currently shared lists. You’ll also need to update your payroll records and remove the employee from your company’s email list.
  • Set up an email redirect. If you have the departing employee’s email address, you can set up a redirect so that any emails sent to that address are forwarded to their manager. This can help to avoid any disruptions to your company’s communication.
  • Change the voicemail greeting. If the departing employee was responsible for answering phone calls, make sure you change the voicemail greeting to avoid any confusion.
  • Remove the employee from company projects and resources. For example, you may have org charts, recurring company meetings, or other internal communications where they’re included.

Stage 7: tying up loose ends

After an employee leaves, there are a few final things to take care of to make sure everyone parts with a smile on their face.

  • Consider organizing a farewell card, gift, letter, and/or party. Celebrating the departure is a nice way to show your appreciation for their time with the company.
  • Once an employee has left, it’s important to stay in touch. Show them you value their contribution and want to keep them as part of the company family. Remember, some employees do go back to companies they enjoyed working for, making it worthwhile to part on the best terms.

How to create an offboarding process document

So, you know how to offboard. Now, it’s time to formalize it in a process document. Here are a few simple steps to get started.

1. Define the goals of the offboarding process

What do you want to achieve with offboarding? Are you trying to minimize the legal risks of termination? Are you hoping to retain top talent? All of the above?

Keep these goals in mind as you develop your process. You might even want to write up a short summary to include on the first page of your offboarding process document as a kind of mission statement.

2. Decide who will be responsible for offboarding

This can be a single person or a team, depending on the size of your company. Whoever is responsible for offboarding should be knowledgeable about the process and able to answer any questions employees may have. Add a list of names to your offboarding process document.

3. Create a timeline

Offboarding shouldn’t be a rushed process. Employees should have enough time to transition to their new role, and the company should have time to properly document the reasons for the termination. Create an onboarding timeline using a diagramming tool, so you have a formalized roadmap to follow.

Cacoo project management timeline template
Project timeline created in Cacoo

4. Draft a personalized schedule

Once you have a timeline, you can start to draft a personalized schedule of events with your timeline as a guide. Include what to do once the termination is announced, when the employee will receive severance pay, and the final dates of employment.

5. Include document templates

Documentation is critical to a successful offboarding process. The company should have a template for the termination letter, as well as any other forms that need to be completed. Include these in your offboarding document.

6 tips for doing offboarding well

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to offboarding, as the process will vary depending on the company and the circumstances of the departure. However, there are some best practices all companies should follow.

1. Give adequate notice and clear reasons

Are you letting someone go? Give departing employees as much notice as possible. This allows them to start looking for a new job and makes the transition less stressful. Also, make sure you give a clear explanation of why to minimize confusion about the reasons. It’s tough losing your job, so the more empathetic and kind you can be, the better.

2. Help with the transition

Companies should provide departing employees with resources to help them transition to their new role. This can include a job search assistance program, outplacement services, or even just a list of contacts in the industry.

3. Stay positive

Offboarding isn’t an inherently negative process, but it can be emotional for all involved. Remember to stay professional, and use it as an opportunity to thank an employee for their service, help them transition to their next role, and minimize the impact of their departure. By staying positive and focused on these objectives, you can turn a potentially sad situation into a productive one.

4. Train your team

Train all employees involved in the offboarding process on the steps and procedures. This includes HR staff, managers, and even IT personnel who may need to disable access to company systems.

5. Test the process

Once you develop and implement your offboarding process, it’s important to test it to ensure it’s working as intended. Do this by simulating a termination scenario and walking through the steps with a mock employee. And don’t forget to take notes during the real thing.

6. Make improvements

No offboarding process is perfect, and there will always be room for improvement. After testing the process, take a look at what went well and where there’s room for improvement. Then, make the necessary changes to ensure your offboarding process runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Final thoughts

An offboarding process is a crucial part of any termination, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It isn’t always a happy time, but with a little planning and preparation, you can make sure everyone involved in the termination process receives fair treatment.

If you’re looking for a way to visualize your offboarding process, consider using diagramming software, like Cacoo. With Cacoo, you can create timelines and schedules with just a few clicks, thanks to a full library of templates and a simple drag-and-drop interface. Plus, since it’s all on the cloud, editing and sharing are easy. Just invite the departing employee into the document, and let them view and add comments.

The more organized and transparent you can make your offboarding process, the smoother it will be. And that benefits everyone, whether they’re staying or moving on to new pastures.

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