One of your employees just handed you a resignation letter. What happens next? Are you prepared to set your company’s offboarding wheels in motion?
Situations like this might keep you up at night, especially when a valued staff member decides to move on. It’s natural to worry about how your team will fill the knowledge gap, and how soon you’ll be able to replace an employee who seems irreplaceable.
But sometimes these concerns create unexpected tension between you and the employee who, until this point, enjoyed working at your company. You may want the exit to go smoothly, but despite your best intentions, this kind of transition can go awry. It may even disrupt your work environment and put unnecessary strain on the rest of your team, which can damage morale and productivity.
No employer wants a team member to leave on a negative note. That’s why it’s useful to develop and implement a well-crafted offboarding plan. But what does that look like? First, let’s look at what this process can help you accomplish.
Why Is Effective Offboarding So Important?
Offboarding is an integral part of the departure process for employees, as well as for your business. The right steps can help you:
- Manage the practical aspects of shifting the employee’s responsibilities to others
- Gather work-related feedback, so you can identify key issues and improve
- Minimize security risks (for example, by removing employee access to company accounts and recovering company assets)
- Prevent legal issues (such as contract or compensation disputes and wrongful termination)
- Part ways on the best possible terms
By addressing each of these concerns, you can close the employee’s chapter at your company in good faith.
Is It Really Over?
But what if the story isn’t yet finished? What if a departure could be avoided? Offboarding discussions may expose unresolved issues with an employee’s pay, holiday entitlement, pension contributions, benefits, work schedule, location, and more.
If you discover that someone is disgruntled but not fully committed to leaving, you may have the potential to fix these issues and avoid an unnecessary departure.
The key is to pay close attention. Is unhappiness or dissatisfaction with your company motivating someone to leave? If you identify the root cause and resolve it quickly, will the employee reconsider? Each situation is unique. But you may find it worthwhile to address these issues so you can keep a valued employee onboard.
Managing Employee Exits With Grace
Above all, don’t assume an employee’s departure is a personal rejection of you or your company. Staff members leave for many valid reasons. Another company may have offered an irresistible pay increase, a compelling promotion, or more attractive benefits. Or maybe it’s time for a career change.
By keeping this in mind, you can manage offboarding in a respectful way that motivates a departing employee to cooperate in handing off responsibilities with minimal upheaval.
Always try to keep the situation professional and treat the employee fairly, regardless of the reason for their departure. Helping people maintain a positive relationship with your company is important for multiple reasons. It minimizes negative internal consequences and potentially avoids public discord. Also, it reinforces the integrity of your employer brand and preserves your ability to attract strong talent in the future.
Ultimately, when an employee chooses to resign, you cannot stop them from leaving. And if the relationship turns sour, it is often best to let people go, rather than become upset or try to strike a deal.
Watch for Warning Signs, Even Before Offboarding
Sometimes, the first sign of trouble may come long before an employee actually resigns.
For instance, when you meet with a team member for a casual one-on-one conversation, or to discuss a specific concern or disciplinary measure, what response do you receive? Does the employee arrive late, avoid answering questions, appear disengaged, or show other signs of a negative attitude?
If it’s clear this employee is disgruntled, you’ll want to address the issue immediately, honestly, and with an open mind. Perhaps you’ll find that this person doesn’t feel sufficiently supported or compensated. Their actions could be a form of “quiet quitting,” where they refuse to go above and beyond.
By encouraging clear, honest communication, you may be able to address the individual’s specific concerns in a way that improves the employee experience for others, as well.
On the other hand, if a negative employee has already handed in their notice and isn’t interested in discussing solutions, it’s important to let them go. Invite them to an exit interview and do what you can to encourage them to attend.
To successfully manage an employee’s exit and avoid costly claims, be sure to take these steps:
- Always acknowledge the resignation or exit situation with a letter explaining logistical steps. This should include the date an employee’s contract will end, the amount of any remaining annual leave, pay arrangements, and instructions for returning any property or equipment.
- Remind employees before they leave about any contractual obligations that apply, which may include confidentiality clauses and post-termination restrictions.
- Revoke the employee’s access to IT and security systems. This protects you from anyone who may try to change or delete information before they leave.
- Emphasize that they are not permitted to remove or share proprietary data or confidential information. Provide a list of documents and details you need from them before they leave, including passwords and relevant client or customer information.
- If appropriate, conduct an exit interview to clarify any unresolved issues and gather useful feedback. Venting at this meeting can be a type of therapy for exiting staff and provide valuable insights you may want to act upon.
Top Tips for Handling a Difficult Exit Interview
Instead of treating an employee’s exit interview as the full stop at the end of their time with you — or only an opportunity to uncover issues that may be causing them to leave — use this time to collect actionable data you can share with others in your company who want to improve your work culture and reduce future turnover. These guidelines can help:
1. Think of This as the Opposite of a Recruiting Interview
Instead of asking questions about why an employee wants to join the company, you’re asking why they want to leave. This type of conversation may seem uncomfortable, but it is vital. When someone chooses to leave your company, you’ll want to know why. People rarely leave for trivial reasons, and their feedback could provide insights into your company culture or team dynamics.
2. Schedule Exit Interviews on an Employee’s Last Day or Soon After
Why is the timing important?
- Any sooner, and they might hesitate to share honest feedback while still onboard.
- Any later, and they may feel distant and disengaged. When this happens, you run the risk of receiving feedback that isn’t as accurate, specific, or complete.
3. Keep it Casual
For example, if you can meet at a nearby cafe, the conversation will feel more relaxed and less like a formal work session.
The way you handle this interview is also important, particularly if you’re facing a difficult situation with an irate employee. Try to listen more than you talk. Avoid responding to feedback. That’s not the objective of this process. You’re not trying to defend the business. Instead, you want to learn as much as possible about how the departing employee perceives things.
4. Take the High Road
Keep in mind that retaliation of any kind is likely to worsen the situation. Even if you want to match the employee’s behavior, resist the temptation. If it becomes difficult to remain calm, consider pausing or adjourning the interview. If you anticipate a volatile discussion, ask a peer to remain close, and request assistance if needed.
5. Document Everything
Remember that you are responsible for the meeting’s tone and agenda. Try to stay focused on your purpose as a fact-finder. Make a note of any unexpected issues so you can return to them later in the discussion. Or reschedule the meeting for a later date if you need more time to gain closure. Make a note of any physical action such as slamming the table, shouting, or storming out of the meeting, so the minutes and outcome of the meeting can reflect the nature of the discussion. Finally, always follow up in writing to document events and outcomes.
How to Ensure a Smooth Departure
For productive handoffs, many organizations turn to trained HR consultants for assistance. This is especially useful if you’re new to the offboarding process or you don’t have sufficient internal resources available to ensure its success.
Relying on specialists for help is a very effective way to be sure that a departing employee can leave your organization on the best possible terms, and a replacement will be ready to step into their role. In addition, you’ll sleep more soundly, knowing you’re prepared to fill the open position with a suitable candidate as soon as possible.