Workplace culture: Are you neglecting offboarding?

Given our focus on onboarding a week or two ago, it seems only fair that we also spend some time talking about offboarding.

As we’ve discussed before, despite a wealth of evidence that suggests good onboarding is an integral part of the talent management lifecycle, it’s something that’s often goes neglected. There is, it seems, a misconception that things like comprehensive onboarding procedures are the realm of huge multinational corporations.

That, of course, is not the case. Every business, of every size – whether it’s a retail store, a cafe, or a tech startup like Ento – can benefit from smart onboarding practices.

And by the same token, every business can also benefit from smart, considered offboarding practices.

What is offboarding?

Since onboarding is all about easing a new employee into your organisation, it stands to reason that offboarding refers to easing an employee out of the organisation. It’s a process that needs to be adhered to every time an employee leaves your business, regardless of whether the separation is at the employee’s behest, or yours.

If onboarding is something that gets neglected, then offboarding gets straight up abandoned. Despite the plethora of evidence that suggests mismanaging the offboarding process can have negative consequences, managers often avoid it for a number of very human reasons.

After all, welcoming someone to the team is a lot more pleasant than farewelling someone. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2016 saw 5.0 million total job separations. Of that total, 32% were attributed to layoffs and discharges, and 58% were attributed to voluntary separations, or ‘quits’.

Given that 75% of people leave their jobs because they’re unhappy with either their job or their boss, that’s a lot of opportunity for bad blood.

Ultimately, while the circumstances surrounding an employee leaving may be fraught, it’s in every organisation’s interest to develop and utilise a proper offboarding process.

What are the aims of good offboarding?

In an ideal world, employees would only leave for positive reasons. They’d give you plenty of notice, they’d help you train their replacement, and they’d give you honest, enlightening feedback to help strengthen the way you manage your team.

Of course, that’s a scenario that rarely plays out.

Given there’s a decent chance that any separation of employee and employer will be mired in animosity, it’s up to management to smooth things over as much as possible, in order to facilitate a rewarding offboarding experience for both parties.

There are three major goals each offboarding experience should achieve. They are:

  • Transferring knowledge (in particular tacit knowledge) from the exiting employee to either their replacement, or someone who will work closely with their replacement.
  • Making sure the organisation, and all associated data and property, remains secure once the employee has left.
  • Obtaining insight into any internal issues or opportunities that the employee may have noticed during their tenure.

Knowledge transfer

The average interview process now takes 23 days.

Under the National Employment Standards (NES), employees in Australia may be entitled to give as little as one week notice when resigning, depending on their employment agreement and how long they’ve worked there.

That means the odds of your departing employer having the opportunity to work one-on-one with their replacement are pretty slim.

Every role, in every workplace, will be made up of a mixture of tacit and explicit knowledge. The explicit knowledge (provided you’ve got solid policies, procedures and documentation in place) is relatively easy to pass on to a new employee. It’s the tacit knowledge – those little pieces of information that exist only in the brain of someone – that are more difficult to transfer from one person to another.

A lot of the time, tacit knowledge can seem almost inconsequential. Take, for example, one of the retail jobs I had when I was at uni, at a national health and beauty chain. There was a number of idiosyncrasies that only staff who had been there awhile had picked up – a particular product that never scanned, a particular line item that always showed the wrong stock levels on the computer, a particular EFTPOS pinpad that required a just-so flick of the wrist to work.

Things like this can seem inconsequential, but they can cause both new employees and customers their share of headaches.

As soon as a pending job separation has been brought to light, it’s up to management to formulate a plan to obtain as much information – tacit and explicit – as possible from the departing employee.

There are any number of ways to do that. TidyForms has a free, very comprehensive knowledge transfer plan you can download here that you may want to use – or at the very least, use as a jumping off point for developing your own plan. Alternatively, the Harvard Business Review has outlined a process for capturing an employee’s organisational-specific knowhow, which you can view here.


When I left my last job before moving to Ento, the single concession to security was me handing back my keys. While they likely decommissioned my company email account, and possibly changed the alarm code for the office at some stage, at no point did anyone ask me for the myriad login details I’d acquired in my time there.

I left that job on very good terms, and as such handed over all my logins unprompted, but if I hadn’t, I had the absolute capacity to do some damage with the access I’d retained.

The interesting (or concerning) thing is that this example is by no means an isolated incident. A 2014 study by Intermedia uncovered some alarming statistics about ex-employees and security. Their survey found the following:

  • 89% of respondents are walking away from jobs with passwords to Salesforce, Paypal, email, and other sources of sensitive corporate information
  • 45% retained access to confidential or highly confidential data
  • 49% logged into an account after leaving the company
  • 60% were not asked for their cloud logins when they left
  • 68% store work files in personal cloud storage
  • 88% retain access to file sharing services

By not offboarding employees properly, and inadvertently letting former employees retain access to sensitive data, organisations are opening themselves up to a number of risks. Not only do you face the very real possibility that sensitive information will fall into the hands of the wrong people, but you also face the possibility that an employee will (either inadvertently or maliciously) delete something crucial.

It’s imperative that your offboarding plan includes a section on IT. Make a checklist of all hardware you need returned, of all logins you need to obtain, and all online services you need to revoke access to. Make sure that any important information that is stored, either on hardware or in the cloud, is copied and saved before accounts are deleted or drives wiped.

Obtaining honest, insightful feedback

I have never worked anywhere that has conducted exit interviews with outgoing staff.

This fact is staggering to me. While an exit interview definitely has the potential to uncover unpleasant issues or details, the opportunity to obtain insight into your business from someone who has no incentive to lie is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

While the easy option might be to just sit down with your departing employee over coffee and ask them a few questions about their time with your organisation, you’re going to capture far more meaningful data by using a standardised methodology.

SurveyMonkey, for example, has a free template for an exit interview, which contains around 20 questions with five possible responses, from ‘extremely’ through to ‘not at all’. If every departing employee completes the same exit interview, which has been designed to limit the number of open-ended questions, over time you’ll be able to obtain solid, meaningful data on what your departing employees truly think about your business.

Setting up an exit survey in something like SurveyMonkey is incredibly easy – the most time consuming part will be formulating the list of questions you want to ask. Take some time to think about what kind of information you want to get, and formulate your questions from there.

While your departing employees are in no way obligated to actually submit to an exit interview or survey, there are steps you can take to maximise your responses. Qualtrics has a great list of ways to increase response rates, which you can read here.

While saying goodbye to an employee can certainly be difficult, a well-considered offboarding plan can take the pain out of the process.

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