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From Exit Interviews to Alumni Networks: How to Effectively Offboard Employees

Jun 24, 2022

BY Alex Hilleary

Principal Content Marketing Manager

Last impressions are often lasting impressions, and offboarding is a company’s chance to get it right. When done intentionally, offboarding can set the stage for positive, long-term relationships and serve as an opportunity to gain valuable feedback.

Why Do Last Impressions in the Workplace Matter? 

Each employee that leaves your organization either becomes an advocate or antagonist for your employer brand. Unfortunately, studies show that antagonists tend to make a bigger impact. 

That’s an issue, especially since potential applicants trust employee insights three times more than the company itself. Inc. even suggests that it takes 40 positive reviews to undo the damage of one negative review. These statistics highlight the ripple effect of how negative experiences spread in the marketplace. 

It’s incredibly important to be proactive about creating positive last impressions, so that your company isn’t fighting the uphill battle of negative press and burning bridges unnecessarily.

What is Offboarding? 

Offboarding is the process of parting ways with an employee. Just as it’s important to get employees off to a strong start, it’s equally important to send employees off in a way that preserves the relationship between both parties and protects your reputation in the marketplace. Offboarding is an excellent opportunity to gather feedback and use it as fuel to improve the experience of current employees. 

It’s important to note that the scope of offboarding extends far beyond just one isolated employee. The way you offboard is a powerful signal to current and former employees that you are who you say you are, and that employees matter more than just their contribution to the bottom line. When you treat employees well from beginning to end, other employees feel safe knowing they’ll receive the same respect. 

The Four Elements of Offboarding

Offboarding is a step in the employee lifecycle, and to do it effectively, you must view it as an intentional process with a core set of objectives. Consider the four elements below when refining your offboarding process.

1. Determine Logistics

Disconnecting employees from sensitive corporate information, filling out necessary paperwork, and arranging a final paycheck are among a few logistical threads that need to be tied off. Keep in mind the importance of ending access; 89% of past employees in the US retain unnecessary access to Salesforce, QuickBooks, and other sensitive corporate apps. 

2. Transfer Work to Others and Coordinate With Stakeholders

Everyone in your organization or team must know about the change, especially those who will be expected to take on the work and clients the employee is leaving behind. Consider developing a workflow that clearly defines how the leaving employee’s work will be distributed and reminds the team when this transition will take place. 

3. Maintain a Positive Relationship

How the relationship ends will influence the attitude of the individual employee being offboarded. Their last impression will also determine potential online reviews or word-of-mouth conversations about your company. 

4. Gain Valuable Feedback

Offboarding is your team’s opportunity to understand what it’s like to work at your organization and to consider why an employee is leaving. If your company can cultivate a safe environment for honest feedback, you can analyze these insights and use them for rapid innovation within your organization, whether it’s recognizing repeated issues with a particular manager or identifying ways to improve culture. 

How to Conduct Effective Exit Interviews

The exit interview is a sacred time to gather feedback. When done correctly, these interviews can reveal pain points and opportunity spaces to improve the experience of your talent. However, an endless stream of true-false questions between the employee and their direct manager is a sure way to botch this opportunity. 

Instead, employ the following techniques to learn honest insights – good and bad – about the employee experience so you can determine next steps for you and your company.

Gather High-Quality Feedback

To gather high-quality feedback during the exit interview, be sure to:

  • Time it right. The last day of an employee’s tenure is emotional, which can skew the results of the exit interview. Alternatively, scheduling it too far after the employee leaves may also be detrimental, since they may be focusing their attention on a new role. Plan to schedule either a few days before or after their final day to glean the best insights.
  • Use an objective third party interviewer. The use of a third party to conduct the exit interview is an effective way to gather the most honest feedback possible, not only about the employee-supervisor relationship, but the company as a whole. 
  • Take action after the interview. The most common mistake in the offboarding process is not taking action on the exit interview data. The first step is keeping an orderly and accessible account of the interview data that you can filter by department and manager. If you uncover areas of opportunity or key pain points, put a plan into place.

Ask Effective Questions 

Effective questions are the most important technique to maximize what you can learn from your employee. 

DO: 

  • Ensure the interview is 15-20 minutes maximum. If you make it longer, the value of the feedback diminishes and the employee begins to check out. 
  • Use 7-12 strong mixed-method questions, with probing after each. For example, an effective question might be, “Were you given ample professional development opportunities?” Follow this up with, “Can you provide examples that further explain?” It’s the why behind the rankings that will reveal the concrete opportunity space for your organization to do better. 

AVOID: 

  • Leading questions. Swap, “Are you leaving because of your manager?” for “What are your main reasons for leaving?” 
  • True-false or ranking questions, especially without further probing. Without further investigation, simple True-false questions or rankings will provide no clear action steps. 

Continue the Relationship After Offboarding with an Alumni Network

The employer-employee relationship does not need to end after the exit interview. Whether it’s via a thoughtful check-in email or a regular lunch, keeping in touch with former colleagues is mutually beneficial (and can often lead to future opportunities, references, or partnerships). 

On a large scale, however, People teams should look for a scalable solution for keeping employees connected post-offboarding. One such solution is an employee alumni network.

Why Develop an Employee Alumni Network?

Alumni networks are powerful tools that continue to engage former employees with your organization and with each other. It’s important to show that your company cares about an enduring commitment, and an alumni network is a tangible symbol of this commitment. You can even announce this network as a perk to new employees from the outset of their career to establish a sense of community and belonging.

Decide on a Platform

The most effective alumni networks identify the overlap between what former employees want and what the organization can provide. Engage with former employees to identify the kinds of content and networking opportunities they would like. 

At the same time, evaluate the amount of resources, staff, and time available to give towards this project. Larger companies like McKinsey and Accenture have dedicated alumni network websites, but for smaller companies, a Facebook group, Slack channel, or LinkedIn Alumni group work equally as well to facilitate an online community. 

Highlight the Benefits

If you have used employee feedback to inform the design of your network, employees should be able to clearly identify the benefits and join organically. For example, responding to employee requests for networking via a Facebook group that plans yearly meetups creates a natural incentive to join and participate.  

Promote Networking

An alumni network can simplify the process of keeping former colleagues connected. A channel within a Slack workspace, or multiple channels with each dedicated to a specific alumni topic, work wonderfully. An alumni directory that’s continuously updated is another great alternative. 

Provide Relevant Content

Content must be curated based on what your alumni would like to see. Consider a newsletter or post with updates on the organization, announcements, and surveys for continuous feedback.

Share Success Stories

‍Highlighting alumni success stories is an excellent way to make members feel appreciated and part of the community. It is a great source for content as well as organically fueling alumni networking. 

Offboarding Takeaways

Effective offboarding demonstrates that you value employees as people, not just mere contributors to the bottom line. The way you handle offboarding also has the power to significantly help or hurt your business. 

Below are top considerations when revamping your onboarding process, summarized.

  • Last impressions in the workplace have the power to alter your organization’s reputation in the marketplace.
  • Offboarding also sends an internal signal to current employees about the way they will be treated, and about their value to the company. 
  • Goals for offboarding often include logistics, maintaining a positive relationship, transferring work, and gaining feedback via the exit interview.
  • The most important components of nailing an exit interview include scheduling the interview appropriately, using a third-party interviewer, and designing effective questions with additional follow-up. Taking action on what was learned in the interview is the most pivotal step. 
  • Developing an alumni network is a way to keep employees engaged with the organization and with each other, better solidifying a long-term relationship.

It’s important to have succession plans in place so you can be agile when the unexpected arises. Plan now to lead with confidence later.

Learn about succession planning here

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