In October 2022, around 4 million Americans wrote a letter of resignation and quit their jobs.. With the Great Resignation still in effect, it’s never been more important to pay attention to offboarding.
Making a good final impression on departing employees is more than just a matter of courtesy.
Employees who remember your organization poorly are less likely to return to you in the future – and more likely to speak negatively about your company to others, hurting your reputation.
On the other hand, a successful offboarding experience enables you to maintain a strong relationship with departing employees.
Especially if you’ve put effort into hiring the right people, you must ensure that you stay on good terms after they leave.
To make that happen, you need to get employee offboarding right. In this guide to the offboarding process, we cover what offboarding is, how to offboard an employee, why it matters, and how to make it work for you and your workers alike.
Table of contents
- What is offboarding?
- What is an offboarding policy?
- The link between onboarding and offboarding
- Why is employee offboarding so important?
- 9 best practices for optimizing your employee offboarding process
- Optimize your company’s offboarding experience
- An example employee offboarding checklist
- ✅ Replace departing employees smartly with skills testing
What is offboarding?
Offboarding is the process of transitioning an employee out of your company.
It happens when an employee resigns, retires, or is fired.
The goal of offboarding is to end the relationship between employer and employee on a positive note, leaving scope for reconnection in the future.
That’s especially true if an employee has been fired or laid off. They could have complex feelings about leaving your business, and it’s important to approach their departure carefully.
To do that, you should adjust your approach to offboarding depending on what caused your employee’s departure.
An effective offboarding process should:
- Limit disruption to the company and other workers
- Protect any confidential information
- Enable you to gather feedback from the departing employee
- Leave the employee with a favorable last impression of the company
- Provide the employee with outplacement services, if needed
- Protect your business from legal challenges or financial management issues after the employee’s departure, including wrongful pay continuation
What is an offboarding policy?
An offboarding policy is a plan that guides your company’s offboarding process.
If offboarding involves guiding employees out of your company, your offboarding policy should act as the map that helps you send them on their way.
You must have that map because it creates a consistent experience for all your employees. Without it, HR staff could miss important steps in the process or treat some departing workers less respectfully than others.
A formal policy codifies every step of the offboarding process, leaving no room for unconscious bias or omission.
A good offboarding policy should contain:
- Templates for all the legal paperwork you need for finalizing an employee’s departure
- Templates for departure announcements, offboarding emails, and other communications relevant to a leaving employee
- Financial procedures, including guidance on final payouts, severance packages, and benefits
- Guidance to support knowledge transfers between departing employees and their colleagues
- Procedures for the return of all company assets and property
- Procedures for the closure of IT accounts and the revocation of access to information
- A template for exit interviews
The link between onboarding and offboarding
Offboarding and onboarding processes bookend an employee’s time with your company.
Both are ways to establish a positive impression of your organization – onboarding for newcomers who need to learn the ropes and offboarding for leavers who need to transition away.
Companies tend to prioritize onboarding more than offboarding. While 78% of organizations have a formal onboarding process, only 29% have a formalized approach to offboarding. 
Both processes are fraught enough to need careful and respectful handling. If you onboard or offboard an employee too fast, they can feel overwhelmed and even disrespected – like an exploitable resource rather than the valued employee they are.
Both processes also involve a destabilizing element of uncertainty. When onboarding, you must figure out whether you and your employee will be as good a fit as you hope.
Even if you’ve been thorough enough when testing candidates for culture add, there’s no way to guarantee that new hires will work out.
Offboarding opens up a different set of questions. A poor offboarding process can leave you wondering what you could have done to retain a departing employee.
Meanwhile, terminated employees going through offboarding could question why you really want them to leave.
The main link between offboarding and onboarding is that they foster good communication.
You can maintain an open and honest relationship with your workers for the duration of their time with your business by following all of these steps:
- Onboard employees when they start work
- Hold frequent 1:1 conversations about performance and development
- Offboard workers when they leave your company
Why is employee offboarding so important?
Getting offboarding right has positive effects on your company and your staff.
With a solid offboarding policy to guide you, you can implement a process that leaves all parties in a good place.
Even if you have to fire an employee, offboarding can be a way to manage the stresses of the situation for everyone.
Here are the most important reasons why employee offboarding matters – and what you risk if you don’t take the time to do it properly.
Close the door on your employee’s time with you
Some of your departing employees may have been long-term workers. Most of them will have made valuable contributions to your business and its culture.
Offboarding is a way to make sure that their time and investment don’t go unrecognized.
Offboarding is the capstone of a departing employee’s experience in your company. It’s your last chance to show them that you value them for the work they’ve done for you and the energy they’ve given to your organization.
It’s also an opportunity for their colleagues to say goodbye. Offboarding employees sensitively and respectfully also gives your remaining staff a way to adjust to the change in the workplace.
When your remaining employees see you treating their colleagues well even after they’ve decided to leave, they’ll feel better about where they’ve chosen to work.
Putting your business’s values into practice helps you maintain a positive company culture.
Manage risks to the company’s security
Cybersecurity firm Beyond Identity found that:
- Nearly one-third of employers have been hacked because of incomplete or ineffective offboarding
- 91% of departed workers still have access to company files following offboarding
- More than 25% of employers suffered reputational damage owing to incomplete or ineffective offboarding
Even worse: Every data breach costs an average of $9.44M.
Revoking a former employee’s access to company spaces, property, and data isn’t just a way to conclude their time with you – it’s a way to protect your assets and eliminate security risks.
This process could be as simple as collecting a workplace ID badge or access pass or as complex and delicate as reminding a departing employee about the consequences of non-disclosure agreements.
Either way, you must handle it sensitively, with a clear and transparent process.
A good offboarding process also limits the risk that a fired employee will retaliate against your organization by sharing confidential information they acquired at work.
In its own right, it can be a powerful way to protect your business’s assets and data.
Gather useful information
Exit interviews are a vital part of any good offboarding process.
They enable an exiting employee to provide valuable feedback, which can benefit your organization.
By asking the right questions in an exit interview, you learn valuable ways to improve your company’s culture, benefits, and policies. Implementing those changes can help with employee retention in the future.
It can also attract amazing applicants to your organization and even encourage boomerang employees to return to you.
A robust offboarding process should also involve a handover or knowledge transfer so that you lose as little information as possible when your employee departs. Retaining knowledge eases the transition for your remaining workers.
You can also use the handover process to gauge any unique skills your departing employee used at work.
With that information, you can create more informed job descriptions and person specifications and ensure that you hire for all the needed skills when replacing your employee.
Maintain your employer brand
In the age of social networking, word travels fast. Sites like GlassDoor and LinkedIn enable workers to share how their former employers have treated them – good and bad.
If you mishandle an employee’s departure, you may not have a chance to make things right with them.
They could leave your organization with a bad taste in their mouths, which could make them a danger to your employer brand.
You can avoid that danger by implementing the kind of offboarding process that workers remember for all the right reasons.
Make sure people leave your business confident that you care about them. You’ll reap the rewards when they pass on that positive impression to others in your industry.
If you’re trying to attract top talent, your employer brand is a priceless asset. You can’t afford to compromise it by fumbling your offboarding process.
9 best practices for optimizing your employee offboarding process
The US rate of total employee-employer separations reached 3.7% in February 2023.
The figure shows there’s no way to avoid offboarding, so you need to get it right – and one of the best ways to make it work for you is to ensure that your process is rock-solid.
These best practices should inform and direct your offboarding process.
You may need to make adjustments depending on your organization’s unique situation or the circumstances of a particular employee’s departure. But the principles behind each step are universal.
With these steps, you can build an offboarding policy that keeps your departing employees happy, your current employees comfortable, and your company in great shape.
Offboarding best practices at a glance
|What to do||Why it matters|
|Treat the employee kindly and respectfully||Ends their time with you on a positive note|
|Communicate with the rest of the team||Keeps the morale up among your remaining workers|
|Hold an exit interview||Enables you to gather information that can improve your organization’s operation|
|Lean on your succession planning||Facilitates a smooth transition between employees|
|Revoke access and collect company property||Protects the security of your work site, company equipment and property, and data|
|Automate the process where possible||Limits the risk of errors while offboarding staff|
|Recommend outplacement services||Manages negative press and damaged morale during layoffs|
|Stay in touch||Encourages workers to consider returning to your organization|
|Plan your next hire proactively||Finds the best possible candidate to replace your departing employee|
1. Treat the employee kindly and respectfully
Whatever the reason for your employee’s departure, they deserve a careful, kind, and respectful offboarding.
That means you must apply your offboarding policy to them equitably and fairly, regardless of their previous relationship with your business.
You must also take time to explain your offboarding process to them. They should know what to expect from you as their time with you ends.
To enable that, your offboarding policy should contain a template for an offboarding email.
The email should provide a clear outline of what their last weeks at the organization will look like. You can personalize and send this template to your departing employee at the outset of the process.
Also aim to end their time with you on a positive note. Show them appreciation on their way out – gestures like a card, a parting gift, or a farewell party are usually appreciated.
2. Communicate with the rest of the team
A colleague leaving can feel disruptive and distressing, even under the best circumstances. Your remaining employees will find the departure much harder to manage if you don’t communicate with them on the subject.
Don’t leave it up to workplace gossip to spread the news of an employee’s departure. Let the wider team know as soon as you can in an official communication from HR or management.
A good offboarding policy should include a template for an offboarding email for the rest of the team – or the rest of the organization, if necessary.
Communication is especially important when you lay off workers because your remaining staff could feel insecure about their jobs.
The prospect of upheaval at work can be daunting, but good communication always eases the way. Communicating clearly with your employees keeps morale high, even in difficult circumstances.
3. Hold an exit interview
For every departing employee, you should plan and hold an exit interview.
Your offboarding policy should specify a standard formula for this interview so you can gather valuable, consistent insights into your company.
Some sample exit interview questions include:
- What led you to start looking for a new job?
- Do you think your job has changed since we hired you?
- Do you feel you received enough training and upskilling opportunities?
- How would you describe the company’s culture?
- Would you consider returning to the company?
Of course, depending on why your employee is leaving, you’ll need to adjust the questions you ask.
For example, it’s a bad idea to ask an employee why they’ve chosen to leave if you’re terminating them. An exit interview template is still a valuable resource to include in any offboarding policy, however.
Exit interviews are great for departing workers, too. An exit interview acts as a formal goodbye to your organization, which can ease their transition.
4. Lean on your succession planning
Even a junior employee’s departure can have a disruptive impact on their colleagues.
Team members who worked with your former employee could struggle to pick up their work in their absence, which can hurt their wellbeing and morale.
That’s why you must rely on your succession planning to keep things running smoothly.
Optimizing your internal handover processes is a major part of succession planning. Ask your departing employees to participate in a knowledge transfer with their team members.
Whether they create a handover document or attend a 1:1 knowledge transfer meeting, getting this right means their institutional knowledge won’t be lost when they leave.
Good succession planning also creates a better customer experience for your clients. Only 35% of companies have a formalized succession plan in place. You can set yourself apart from your competition by getting ahead of the game here.
Ensure that all client or project handovers are completed well before your departing employee leaves and that your clients know who they’ll be dealing with after your employee is gone.
5. Revoke access and collect property
We’ve already discussed why you must revoke departing workers’ access to your property – whether physical, like laptops and credit cards, or intellectual.
It’s a crucial matter of cybersecurity and building safety, particularly when an employee has been fired and could be resentful.
Enshrining this process in formal policy makes it less fraught. Having property taken away abruptly and accounts deleted out of nowhere can be alarming and off-putting.
That’s especially true for fired employees, who could feel caught off-guard or even persecuted.
Make sure everyone involved in this process knows what to expect so that nothing comes as a shock to your departing employees.
6. Automate the process where possible
Any policy is only as effective as the people who implement it. The same is true of offboarding.
The difference is that offboarding has higher interpersonal stakes than many processes – it’s the last impression workers have of your business, and human error can ruin it.
But even with the best of intentions, people make mistakes. It’s all too easy to slip up and omit an important step from the offboarding process. Mistakes can leave employees feeling hard done by or unfairly treated, regardless of your intent.
HR tech can automate and streamline your offboarding process.
Of course, you can’t automate every element of the process – but handing off what you can to HR tech frees you up to concentrate on the elements that need a human touch.
Some commonly automated offboarding processes include:
- Generating paperwork
- Closing user accounts
- Revoking IT access privileges
- Terminating building access
Automating parts of your offboarding process maximizes your efficiency and can reduce your risk of error or bias at a sensitive time for your staff.
7. Recommend outplacement services
Outplacement services help workers who have been terminated or laid off. In 2021, 44% of organizations reported offering outplacement services for all or most of their fired employees.
These services offer job coaching, networking opportunities, resume writing support, and other services that help newly-unemployed workers find their feet.
By working with an outplacement service, you can counteract the negative press generated by job cuts and layoffs.
If your organization becomes popular for providing this kind of support to employees, it shows that you care about the human costs of layoffs – not just your bottom line.
Making recommendations means your company continues to look like an attractive prospect for top talent in the future. It also boosts the morale of your remaining workers when layoffs are complete.
Layoffs are always upsetting for everyone, but it’s reassuring for remaining employees to see that your organization is willing to invest in support for its departing staff.
8. Stay in touch
Boomerang workers made up one third of all external hires in 2021. When they returned to their previous companies, they came with all their hard-earned institutional knowledge.
Rehiring boomerang employees with that experience is an asset for any employer and a way to save money on training a new employee. In fact, hiring a boomerang employee can save up to two thirds of your company’s normal recruiting costs.
If your company culture is appealing enough, the workers you offboard today might boomerang back to you in a year or more.
And if you’ve put the effort into hiring for culture add, you can reintroduce them to your company with confidence that they will go on contributing to that culture.
That’s why it’s useful to maintain contact with your departing employees.
Systems like organization alumni networks can be an effective way to stay in touch – and pass any vacancies to former employees in the hope of encouraging them to come back.
Companies like McKinsey enroll employees into their alumni network as soon as they’re hired, so there’s no risk of losing contact later.
9. Plan your next hire proactively
It’s often sad when an employee leaves your business. But it can also open the door to opportunities, particularly if you get your hiring process right.
If you plan to start the hiring process as soon as you know an employee intends to leave, you can limit the disruption to your other workers and clients.
Depending on the circumstances, you could even introduce your departing employee and their replacement for a proper handover.
Whether you want to hire internally or externally, you stand a better chance of finding the right person when you hire based on skills.
Skills-based hiring prioritizes a candidate’s skills and experience more than CVs or resumes and can help reduce the hiring mistakes that stem from implicit bias.
You can identify the kind of person you need to hire by following these steps:
- Define the skills required for the role
- Pinpoint how the role has changed since you last hired for it
- Appraise your company’s culture and the skills and traits that will add to it
- Determine which tests will help you to find the right fit for the role
An example employee offboarding checklist
If you want to nail your offboarding process but aren’t sure where to start, try this template.
It shows all the best practices outlined above, and you can keep track of deadlines and completion. You can even note down who is responsible for following through on each step.
This checklist is a starting point, not a definitive list, so adjust it to reflect your organization’s specific needs and ensure that your offboarding process ties up all loose ends and is yours.
|Item||Due Date||Person Responsible||Date Completed|
|Prepare legal paperwork for departure (including notice of resignation/termination and benefits documents)|
|Set up a knowledge transfer between the departing employee and a colleague or team member|
|Schedule an exit interview|
|Recommend outplacement services, if applicable|
|Announce the departure to the rest of the company|
|Organize a farewell gathering and/or buy a gift|
|Invite the employee to join an alumni program, if applicable|
|Issue the employee’s final paycheck|
|Calculate and pay out any unclaimed benefits before the employee’s last day|
|Issue the employee’s severance package, if applicable|
|Terminate all IT accounts and disable all access to company data|
|Reclaim all business property and assets|
|Terminate all building access|
|Thank the employee for their work|
Optimize your company’s offboarding experience
Offboarding is critical to your company’s organizational health.
A clear and transparent offboarding process can protect your company from legal issues, security breaches, and reputational damage.
When it comes to employee wellbeing, offboarding can have serious impacts.
If you offboard employees well, they will remember the experience positively well into the future. They’ll leave on good terms with you and keep the door open for future reconnection.
Don’t wait for something to go wrong before you get this right. Take the time now to optimize your offboarding program, and your organization will reap the benefits from now on.
Learn the skills you need to implement processes like offboarding effectively here.
And as you prepare to fill the vacant role after an employee’s exit, use our Culture Add test to ensure you hire someone whose personality and work style supplement your company’s culture.
1.Ellerbeck, Stefan. (January 25, 2023). “The Great Resignation continues. Why are US workers continuing to quit their jobs?”. WeForum. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
2.Ferrazzi, Keith. (March 25, 2015). “Technology Can Save Onboarding from Itself”. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
3.Cushing, Erin. (December 8, 2014). “The Most Important Employee Lifecycle Activity You’re Not Doing”. Aberdeen Strategy. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
4.“Cybersecurity Risks of Improper Offboarding After Layoffs”. (January 20, 2023). Beyond Identity. Retrieved March 30, 2023.