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Article 13 min read

Offboarding: Definition + how to offboard an employee

Employee offboarding is the process of helping an employee leave your company while creating smooth transitions for remaining employees and limiting your risks.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated April 19, 2024

Once the plane comes to a stop and the seatbelt light turns off, everyone’s ready to exit. Whether you’ve reached your destination or you’re rushing to catch a connecting flight, efficient de-planing helps everyone safely continue on their way. That’s why flight attendants go through extensive training to make sure the process goes smoothly.

Employee offboarding is like the de-planing process: You can’t predict how passengers will react when preparing to exit the plane, but the more structured the process, the more likely everything will run smoothly.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know to make offboarding a seamless step in employee experience journey mapping. This guide covers the definition of employee offboarding, the different types, and the steps in the process.

More in this guide:

What is employee offboarding?

Employee offboarding is the process of managing an employee’s exit from your business. It involves clear, concrete steps to ensure the employee departs smoothly and efficiently. It’s a vital part of employee experience management, as it draws one employee’s tenure to a close and sets up any next steps for your business.

Offboarding begins with notifying relevant stakeholders, capturing institutional knowledge, and collecting company property. It should also include an exit interview to spotlight any valuable feedback.

Types of employee offboarding

Workforce management involves monitoring key analytics like turnover so you can understand the driving causes behind them. You might be offboarding an employee you’re terminating from their role or offboarding someone who chose to leave. Some circumstances allow you more time to prepare, but others require a ready-made offboarding plan that you can quickly implement.

While you can’t predict when an employee will voluntarily leave, you can keep in mind common reasons why employees often depart and require offboarding:

  • Resignation, or otherwise voluntarily terminating their employment
  • Retirement at or before the full retirement age
  • Company restructuring that eliminates their role
  • Temporary work that has a set expiration date, like contractors
  • Termination at the company’s discretion

Regardless of the situation, efficient offboarding is crucial to running a successful business. Without it, your employee experience (EX) suffers, and other risk factors can appear.

Why smooth employee offboarding is important

Smooth employee offboarding greases the wheel and keeps normal business operations functioning despite the employee departure in progress. The remaining employees will notice how you handle the process and will be around to experience the aftermath. If you have a smooth offboarding process, you’ll show employees you care about their experiences.

The benefits of providing frictionless offboarding include better EX and avoiding liabilities.

Frictionless offboarding offers several benefits, including that it can:

  • Improve employee experience with feedback
  • Preserve institutional knowledge from vanishing
  • Protect your reputation by leading with respect
  • Avoid liabilities and risks with compliance
  • Maintain positive relationships for the future

Depending on how well the process unfolds and the reasons surrounding their departure, your employee might return to work for you in the future. These boomerang employees come back around at a later point in time, like a boomerang, and return to either their same role or a new one.

Streamline employee offboarding with help desk software

Make it seamless for employees to get internal support during the offboarding process—and capture valuable institutional knowledge in the process.

Employee offboarding best practices

Offboarding sets the stage for change. Here’s how to approach offboarding to make sure it goes smoothly and prepares you and your employees for the change to come.

Six icons represent tips for offboarding employees.

Set up a knowledge base with offboarding resources

A Single Source of Truth (SSOT) streamlines company knowledge and processes, centralizing them to prevent data from being scattered across silos. An effective knowledge base clarifies offboarding for exiting employees and ensures consistency in:

  • Managerial offboarding actions
  • Offboarding timelines
  • Coworker responsibilities
  • Transition of knowledge and resources for smooth handovers and backfilling

Leveraging internal knowledge base software like Zendesk helps your internal teams easily navigate offboarding a team member. It keeps resources easily accessible and makes the employee offboarding process more efficient, reducing the time and effort required.

Simplify IT and HR support

Your departing employee and their manager will likely have questions for IT and HR to weather the transition. An effective internal support program can make it simple to get answers, such as where the employee can return their company laptop or whether you’ll reimburse them for PTO days they didn’t take.

An internal help desk solution minimizes disruptions to the offboarding process by enabling employees to contact IT and HR over convenient channels like email, Slack, or Microsoft Teams. With AI-powered help desk software, your employees can also reach support 24/7 via AI agents when your internal support teams are off the clock. AI help desk tools can also streamline your IT and HR support team workflows. For example, AI can supply them with suggested replies to employee questions to speed up resolution times.

Use reporting tools to spot offboarding gaps

Real-time data and insights are advantageous assets, giving you a closer look at the offboarding process. These tools can help track key metrics like:

  • How many offboarding requests are active
  • What kinds of offboarding questions employees ask the most
  • How much time offboarding takes
  • Why employees are ending their employment

When you analyze that data, you can discover patterns that show where your offboarding process can improve—or even spot other systemic inefficiencies causing employees frustration. You can also address gaps in the process, like missing steps or overlooked tasks, and correct them for proper compliance.

Manage the communication process

Many people might be affected by an employee’s departure, and each one deserves a heads-up. This includes parties from inside and outside your organization:

  • Team members whose roles will change
  • Teams losing an active member
  • Clients and vendors who work with the employee

Your workplace communication style might try to dictate how you approach informing people about the transition. Always try to ensure your communication around offboarding is clear and direct rather than passive.

If your departing employee does work with clients and outside vendors, you can alleviate concerns and answer questions by providing a little context about the exit. Reassurance that the transition will go smoothly and that they won’t see service interruptions is key to keeping client trust during offboarding, too.

Maintain confidentiality

One of the worst things that can happen during offboarding is sensitive information leaking. Whether that’s private info pertinent to the employee’s termination or trade secrets that the employee knows, you can follow cybersecurity best practices to keep certain things under lock and key.

Only authorized personnel should be able to access confidential information about the departing employee, like personal data or performance reviews. Confidentiality agreements reinforce the importance of discretion during the process. You should also use secure communication channels to discuss details about the departure.

Be empathic and respectful

Lastly, and most importantly, your employees are human. Treat your departing employee with dignity, regardless of why they’re leaving.

Be empathetic by providing comprehensive support and resources during the process, like outplacement services if that’s appropriate. Listen to their concerns and acknowledge their feelings—they could shed light on areas where you can improve.

How to offboard an employee

Now that we’ve covered employee offboarding best practices, it’s time to dig into the specifics. Here are seven steps to offboard an employee effectively and efficiently.

A list of employee offboarding steps that includes setting the tone for efficient offboarding and creating an offboarding plan.

1. Set the tone for an efficient offboarding

Clear guidelines and expectations set the tone for offboarding before conversations even begin. The more defined your offboarding process, the clearer expectations become for all those involved.

Managers can also set the tone by fostering a supportive and respectful environment for the exiting team member. Acknowledging the employee’s contributions and expressing gratitude for their service are some of the most straightforward ways to do this. Still, you can also go further by helping them transition to their next role, which can show empathy during a layoff.

2. Capture any valuable institutional knowledge

Your employee might be sitting on lucrative knowledge relating to their workflows, clients, or another facet of operations. Before they depart, you should capture that institutional knowledge, document it, and ensure it doesn’t get lost in the transition to maintain continuity.

Knowledge transfer sessions are great ways to capture this information. However, the best way to obtain this info is with a knowledge management system that captures, organizes, and distributes institutional knowledge across the organization. That way, you don’t have to worry about important kernels of information slipping through the cracks. AI for EX can help you maintain this institutional knowledge by flagging when it goes out of date.

3. Handle paperwork and administrative tasks

Due process during offboarding requires making sure you take every necessary step to protect the organization’s interests. Paperwork and admin tasks help make sure this gets done:

  • Update records to reflect the employee’s departure.
  • Ensure the employee receives their final pay and benefits, plus continuation options like the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
  • Provide any legal or compliance documents, like a termination letter.

With step-by-step instructions for the process, you can eliminate guesswork about which admin tasks are the highest priority.

4. Communicate with IT and collect company equipment

You should connect with IT team members to protect company assets, ensure data security, and facilitate a smooth transition. They’ll need to help with certain follow-up tasks:

  • Revoking employee access to company systems and accounts
  • Preventing the loss or theft of company property like laptops or other hardware
  • Removing opportunities to access sensitive data

Clear communication helps keep everyone in the loop on outstanding tasks. An IT help desk solution removes barriers to accessing IT team members and creates a simple way to track IT-specific offboarding tasks.

5. Schedule an exit interview for feedback

Exit interviews can be goldmines for valuable information about the employee’s experiences with your organization. You can spot opportunities for feedback related to company culture, management practices, and employee development. You might even discover reasons for employee turnover, helping to correct the issue and improve employee retention.

If the departure isn’t on good terms, your employee may not agree to an exit interview. But if they do, try asking questions that allow for open-ended, informative responses that survey employee engagement and employee satisfaction:

  • What factors influenced your decision to leave the company?
  • What aspects of company culture did you find most and least appealing, and why?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the employee experience?

Exit interviews are not only key for your own insights but can also help departing employees feel heard and valued, even as they leave the organization. This can further help your brand and reputation in the job market.

6. Create a plan for your team

Once the termination date draws near, you should consider the impacts on remaining team members, especially if they worked closely with the departing employee. They may need to address critical tasks or projects that need immediate attention. Looking ahead is easy when you use workforce planning templates to define your future needs and how you’ll meet them.

You should also consider how you’ll announce the employee’s last day to your team and how you’ll tie up loose ends during the transition. Make yourself available to answer questions or concerns, and update project statuses regularly during offboarding.

A solid, well-communicated plan can set your remaining team members up for success and avoid disrupting productivity or morale.

7. Hire and onboard a replacement

This step might not be necessary for you, and that’s okay. If you do need to find a replacement, the steps for employee onboarding vs. offboarding are quite different.

However, a strong offboarding process anchored by an intuitive internal help desk solution can set you up to efficiently onboard new hires, even at the same time as the ongoing offboarding process. This ensures a speedy restart of the employee lifecycle, little to no loss of productivity, and efficient ramping up for future employees.

Frequently asked questions

Streamline the offboarding process with help desk software

Employee offboarding signals the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one—both for you and your former employee. With the right care and consideration, you can make the onboarding process run smoothly and avoid risks and mistakes in the process.

Streamline your offboarding process with the help of an AI-powered internal help desk solution like Zendesk that makes it easy to contact IT and HR, gather data on those requests, and capture knowledge via a help center. That way, all relevant parties have the information they need at their fingertips and don’t have to hold up the process because of procedural questions.

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