Making offboarding seamless and painless when an employee leaves isn’t as hard as you’d think.
Whether the news of offboarding comes as a surprise or you saw it coming, transitioning an employee out of your organization can go smoothly by following an established communication plan and a checklist of to-dos, helping you to mitigate the pain of turnover via clear expectations.
- Put it in writing – a written acknowledgement of the date of termination (last day of work) is important for any type of employment separation to ensure record-keeping is accurate for all parties. Regardless of how the resignation was initially communicated to you, a quick “This is to confirm your last day of work will be X” email is an effective way to ensure there are no misunderstandings, accompanied with a reminder of general exit procedures.
- Note – if, due to industry considerations or other concerns, you’d prefer to let the individual go immediately instead of allowing them to work through their notice period, while legal, this action essentially turns a resignation into an involuntary termination for the period of time that you expedited their exit. This could render the employee eligible for unemployment benefits in some states and may change final check payment deadlines. Be sure to coordinate with payroll and HR when you alter exit dates (more on this below.)
- Check State Laws – each state has laws around terminations which may cover final paychecks (when, where, how much and via what method), unemployment rights notices, and other final paperwork or actions that employers must complete. In many states, deviating from final pay regulations for any reason can immediately trigger fines and backpay, becoming costly to the organization should the employee file a wage claim.
- Talk Transition – as soon as possible – and if it makes sense given the circumstances – set up a time with the exiting employee and others to organize transition of work for the offboarding process. Giving the employee the opportunity to help work through handoff issues with colleagues is an opportunity to depart on good terms for all parties involved. Complementing established procedures on migrating work emails, voicemails, and company directories with gaining agreement from the employee on how their departure will be communicated to others helps to eliminate negativity and maintain morale. Also, ensure your transition plans include identifying and updating SOPs, websites and other processes that reference specific employees.
- Address Company Equipment – does the employee have a company-issued mobile device or laptop? Keys to the office or file cabinets? Employee Handbooks or files? Name badges? Arrangements should be made for drop-off and turn-in. If the employee is remote, ensure there are clear instructions on how to send any company property and equipment back to the home office or to expect a courier.
- Tip – ensure your company electronic equipment records are complete. Onboarding should include an agreement listing date of issue, type of equipment, serial number (if applicable) and a signature by the employee agreeing to care for their equipment and turn it in at the end of employment are key. Many states do not allow you to hold or garnish final paychecks until equipment is returned, so if you need to go outside of the employment relationship to retrieve equipment or seek compensation (small claims court, etc.), accurate and detailed records may help.
- Turn off Access – whether using company equipment or their own, shutting off access to company data as soon as the employee leaves the worksite or signs off on the last day is essential. Also ensure the employee knows when the shut-off will occur so there will be no surprises when they go to file some last-minute items and suddenly find out their access been removed.
- Exit Interview? – while stay interviews are more effective forms of feedback to reduce turnover, companies who still elect to do exit interviews need to commit to investigating issues that weren’t addressed during offboarding – that should have been – which compelled an employee to leave. If an employer extends an exit interview, and the employee is willing to share their experience, employer follow through is the only action that will make the process during offboarding worth the time.
Some of the major do’s have been covered, so what about the don’ts? What should we be aware of?
- References – An employee may ask for a reference, or as an employer you may get called by another company for a reference as the employee looks for another position. Despite common belief, providing references are not forbidden, however, if bad references lack facts or are peppered with opinions and impede your former employee from finding work, feelings of defamation, illegal bias, or non-compete agendas could lead a former employee to trigger legal action. It is always advisable to obtain legal guidance as to whether the company will provide references or if you will stick to basic data points such as dates of employment and title. Ensuring that your employees and leaders know who can, and can’t, respond to employer reference requests is key.
- Oversharing – Even if an employee sends out a “goodbye” message to the entire office, or announces their resignation to the team, their actual reasons for leaving should be kept private. As implied earlier, if possible, agreeing what will and won’t be said and when with the exiting employee helps to remove guesswork and assumptions among other employees.
- Blame games – Should it be discovered after the fact that mistakes – even major ones – were made by your former employee, discourage disparaging language among the staff and leadership. Maintaining professionalism is key to avoiding an atmosphere of finger pointing. Talking negatively about former employees may lead current employees to wonder what their colleagues and supervisors say about them and their own work missteps and inherently breaks trust.
- Visiting Hours – often employees leave with no hard feelings toward a company and leave a lot of work friends behind. Some may start to “stop by” a worksite to say hello, wander the halls and end up spending a lot of time right back in their old office reminiscing. Now a visitor, this former employee may be inadvertently privy to a lot of confidential company information as they make the rounds, as well as a distraction to current employees. Visitors should always be approved and accompanied, and if the “stopping by” starts to become a habit, gently remind your former colleague that while you are glad to see they are doing well, perhaps a meetup after hours is the best way to gather the “old gang” for socializing.
While everything involved with losing a staff member can seem like a hurdle, it doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day, being prepared and setting clear expectations will send a professional and positive message to employees who want to stay. Keeping a checklist of action items at hand can help ensure that steps aren’t missed for offboarding, can save time and helps to avoid scrambling.