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Lasting Impressions: Upgrade Your Offboarding

A woman in a business suit holding a box in front of a group of people.

​HR professionals focus a lot of time and effort on first impressions for new hires. And while it's important to create a positive day-one employee experience, an employee's last impression—how you make them feel on their way out the door—may resonate more than the first.

"One of the reasons why offboarding is so important is because it actually impacts the retention of those people who are left. … And retention isn't just about keeping them, it's about keeping them happy, even when they choose to leave," said Sarah White, founder of Aspect43, a strategy management firm, who co-presented the concurrent session "Offboarding: The Secret Weapon in the Employee Experience" at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas.

On average, people in their 50s and 60s have held about 12 different jobs in their lifetimes, according to government data. And each person departing a job—whether it's because they quit, were fired, were promoted or retired—carries either a positive or negative experience about that departure that they will tell others about (both in person and on social media). That feeling can influence:

  • Referrals. When employees leave on a good note, they're more likely to refer potential employees and customers to the organization.
  • Boomerang employees. Good vibes on the exit = better odds of returning.
  • Employer brand. Former employees will tell their story, both positive and negative. A Gallup survey says about half of corporate alumni maintain some sort of relationship with their previous employers as clients, partners and vendors.

"Whether it's an internal or external transition, each one of those changes is a great opportunity for you as an employer to expand upon that relationship with the individual," said co-presenter Sarah Beth Todd, a sales leader at Equifax Workforce Solutions.

Adopting Tech into Offboarding

For many companies, the offboarding process consists of simply handing out a final paycheck and performing a cursory exit interview. But these days it's crucial to design a more robust offboarding program that fully supports the exiting employee and the company's broader business goals.

"We don't properly offboard at most organizations, and we don't onboard for some of those internal transitions. So offboarding really is more of a strategic piece in the onboarding puzzle," White said.

Among some of the basics to include in any offboarding plan: Update your HRIS system, prepare separation notices, request consent for electronic W-2s, shut off the employee's access to email, remove building access, prepare final paychecks, present COBRA/insurance information, conduct exit interviews, and ask the employee to return company equipment.

Technology can be a big help in your offboarding process, and many employers are surprised to find that they don't need to seek out a new vendor for this purpose.

"Most of the vendors that do onboarding can also fully manage your offboarding process by just putting in a different process flow," White said. For example, she noted, organizations can use their employee experience software to conduct robust online exit interviews. White said some organizations also use this software to get feedback from job candidates who don't get hired. 

"Do that also because, believe it or not, your candidate feedback from the hiring process can be used to see what's going wrong with offboarding," White said. "Because candidates going through the process, especially after they've been hired or rejected, are very open and honest. … It really helps give a 360-degree view of the process."

Exit Interviews Are Still Key

The core of offboarding is the exit interview, so don't skip or condense that step. White even suggests exit interviews for people who are terminated for performance reasons.

"Those people should still get an exit interview because someone being bad at their job is often a symptom of a larger issue. We need to understand why," White said. "Were they put in the wrong job to begin with? Did their job change after they were hired? Is the rest of their team troublesome and they've just given up? Is their boss not a good human? If you don't ask, you won't get the truth about what's going on."

Many companies conduct online exit interviews while others have face-to-face conversations. Which is best? White said online is the best place to start because you'll get better results when employees don't have to see someone else while answering questions. Some companies give incentives—say, a $5 Starbucks card—for employees to take the exit survey.

"What we see more now is companies giving the survey, because it gives you more credible data, … and if someone had a bad experience with somebody in the organization and that's why they're quitting, the last thing they want to do is talk to somebody in HR," White said. "However, you should give the option to people and say 'Would you like to meet with somebody to give additional details.' "


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