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For all the ways that a company can go about addressing their reputation, it’s been my experience that offboarding usually isn’t given a fair shake.

How a company handles offboarding speaks to their culture and values, and their reputation as an employer. If voluntary departures are left with a poor final impression, or involuntary separations are not handled with dignity, there’s nothing stopping the former employee from sharing their negative opinions of your company with friends, family -- and worst of all -- the online community. 

In the constant shuffle of employees from one company to another, about 70 percent of job candidates look to company reviews before making their career decisions. If job sites like Glassdoor and Indeed are rife with negative feedback, a company’s reputation can plummet. Prospective employees will see it and decide to search elsewhere for a company that doesn’t feel so risky. Perhaps even worse, when existing employees find out about the controversy online, they start to doubt their own confidence in the company. 

If so many people have negative things to say, maybe there is some truth to it after all -- or so the logic goes. It’s not hard to see how that kind of thinking can begin to eat away at a workforce’s morale and productivity. 

A company’s reputation is everything, and offboarding is a vital, yet often forgotten, piece of that puzzle. However, offboarding for voluntary departures and offboarding for involuntary departures are actually two very distinct processes, and it’s worth thinking about each one independently. 

Managing voluntary departures

If you’ve ever walked into an Apple Store at the right moment, you may have encountered what is known as a “clap out.” When an employee is leaving for another opportunity, their co-workers gather around, applauding their service and celebrating their departure. Maybe it’s a little silly, but you have to admire that they’ve built that kind of culture. It’s a good example of an effective offboarding practice.

One of the most commonly cited reasons that employees leave willingly is because they don’t feel appreciated. Having a positive process in place can contribute to maintaining an active and fruitful relationship with former employees. They may go on to collaborate with you in the future, or become your client. It also leaves open the potential for them to return to your company later on. In “boomerang” scenarios like this, employees will often come back with more experience and knowledge, and be far more valuable to your company than when they first worked there. 

One of the main ways businesses and HR professionals can give care to offboarding voluntary departures is through the exit interview. When properly done, it provides a wealth of insight into the quality of your company, and the effectiveness of your company culture or work strategies. Departing employees can give valuable insight on whether or not managers are effective, how effective the onboarding and training processes are, and much more.

Having an established process for exit interviews can streamline the experience, but don’t be afraid to vary it based on each person. Sometimes a casual lunch can offer far more insight than a formal interview in the boardroom. The goal is to earn the most honest and helpful feedback while simultaneously strengthening that employee’s relationship with your company before leaving.

On that note, creating groups like alumni networks can also keep old employees plugged in to your business. When implemented well, these networks encourage former employees to act as brand ambassadors, spreading a positive reputation for your company, helping with recruitment, and keeping you top of mind for boomerang opportunities. For example, Deloitte claims to have saved $3.8 million by using their alumni network for recruitment.

Managing involuntary departures

Navigating the offboarding process of involuntary departures is arguably even more important than voluntary exits, because the situation is, naturally, far more delicate. 

Before deciding to terminate an employee, leaders and managers should answer questions such as: Is there sufficient documentation to support this decision? Will there be an impact on the current team? On top of that, reaching the decision to terminate also depends on whether you’ve given the employee in question a chance to improve and become successful after encountering issues. For reductions-in-force (RIFs) or layoffs, there are other factors at play, but termination should only be considered after all other options have been explored.

Once the decision is reached to terminate or initiate layoffs, that is really only the beginning. When is the right time to notify the terminated employee? How much time is necessary to help employees get their affairs in order and prepare for the transition? What kind of support should you be providing in terms of that transition? 

What about their managers and teammates? What is the right messaging for them? 

In answering these questions, employers must walk a fine line between being direct and succinct on the one hand, and being respectful and supportive on the other.

Even when implemented well, an involuntary departure will still leave the affected parties upset at the turn of events. That’s why the most valuable part of involuntary offboarding is to provide resources for the exiting employees to make a successful career transition. 

Outplacement empowers laid-off or terminated employees to more quickly move on to the next part of their career, and this benefits both the separating worker and the organization itself. Above all else, the best thing you can do for both to prevent a laid-off or terminated employee from becoming bitter and spiteful is help them move on to a new job. 

Outplacement support can include resources like resume reviews, job search advice and interview training -- services which help employees present themselves in the best possible light to future employers. Outplacement can even get as in-depth as personalized coaching and career assessments to help direct or redirect people in their career paths moving forward. Sometimes a terminated employee finds that, after going through this process, that all they really needed was to take their work in a different direction.

The conversation of developing employer brands typically revolves around how to appeal to talent in your field, and how to make your company seem like an appealing place to work. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t include offboarding as a core part of that conversation. Employee departures are inevitable, and it’s important to treat people as well on their way out as you do on their way in. Offboarding processes, for both voluntary and involuntary separations, can directly and effectively address the qualms that might otherwise plague your organization -- and by extension, its reputation.

About the Author(s)

Darren Kimball GetFive

Darren Kimball is Principal & CEO of GetFive, a leading provider of modern outplacement solutions. Prior to acquiring the company in 2013, he enjoyed a 20-year career on Wall Street as a highly-visible stock analyst and portfolio manager.

Principal & CEO, GetFive
Darren Kimball Offboarding