Why offboarding is as important as onboarding
A lot of attention is given to the onboarding procedure for new hires. You want to make sure the new folks feel comfortable in their surroundings, meet their co-workers, learn expectations, company polices, and safety procedures, and of course most importantly, know where the bathroom, breakroom, and snacks are located! They meet with HR, fill out their forms, and away they go into their new role in your company.
But far too often, little attention is given to offboarding, termination, or laying off these same employees. Whether the separation is for cause, restructuring, financial reasons, or a voluntary resignation, we need to do a better job “divorcing” our workers from our companies. And that’s even more true if the company is perceived, and holds itself out, as being a “conscious company” that emphasizes an authentic concern for people and planet along with profits.
There are a number of reasons why more forethought must be given to offboarding in the conscious company, each with its own business imperative and unique exposure points.
Nothing is more frustrating, time consuming, and costly than dealing with a protracted employee separation. Most HR directors know there are specific procedures that must be legally followed with separation laws particular to each state. Whether you’re living in an “at will” state where employees can be fired for any reason without showing cause or if you’re laying off people, you want to make sure you have all of your i’s dotted and t’s crossed, that you’ve documented any performance issues, made layoff/termination decisions in a non-discriminatory way, have clearly outlined any post-separation benefits, and that you have soon-to-be former employees sign separation agreements. Even if the separation is by resignation, you want to have a formal checklist to protect your company from potential legal issues.
In addition to potential legal costs associated with less-than-thoughtful separations/terminations/layoffs, there can be other costs associated with unemployment insurance (depending on the circumstances and state law). You’ll also want to be consider that it may be worth paying some on-going expenses for those employees post separation for a period of time, rather than pay more money to lawyers for disgruntled former employees.
Unless the former employee was particularly toxic to the company, remaining teammates can often feel a sense of loss if the former employee involuntarily separated from the company. This can create a culture of fear and insecurity, and may even lead to other remaining employees dusting off their resumes and going on interviews, resulting in further departures. If you want to keep the wheels on the bus moving, creating a conscious environment around separations is absolutely necessary to a healthy work environment.
Alignment with Core Values
If your company has a mission and core values around treating people with dignity and respect, you don’t want to be that company that is known for calling workers into an office on Friday afternoon to tell them they’ve been let go while someone is packing up their desk, and then having security escort them out of the building. To be sure, there may be real fears around the theft of intellectual property, exacerbating toxic work situations, and even in some extreme cases, potentially violent reactions to consider and address. That said, if you’re operating an ethical and conscious business, and if your termination practices match those values, you can deescalate and rebalance what is almost certain to be a traumatic situation for your soon-to-be ex-employee.
The last thing any business owner or manager wants is a raft of bad publicity to erupt after the separation of a former employee. With most Americans getting their news and information from social media sites, it’s very easy for a disgruntled former employee who perceives that they weren’t treated well or fairly, to wreak havoc on a company’s reputation through posts on a number of social media sites – be they relatively anonymous company reviews on Glassdoor to negative personal accounts to friends and family on Facebook or LinkedIn.
While being mindful of offboarding procedures won’t eliminate these risks, they certainly can be minimized through a few easy techniques.
Regardless of whether the circumstance is a voluntary resignation or a termination or layoff, you always want to be ethical in how you handle these situations. If your policies and procedures seem like a scene out of a movie or TV show where the boss is in essence saying to the employee, “You’re FIRED! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” you’re doing it wrong. Likewise, if you’re firing employees by text, email, telephone, or by passing off the responsibility to a non-supervisor, you aren’t being conscious or ethical. In-person meetings and/or exit interviews are key to this process to help the individual employee, the manager(s), and the remaining workers “heal” from the separation. Communication should be a two-way street and managers should be prepared to actively listen to any concerns raised by the employee. Chance are that if one employee feels a certain way, other remaining employees do as well. This is a golden opportunity for you as a manager to accept some well-placed criticism, even if, perhaps, delivered in a less than eloquent or an inartful way.
If the separation is from an involuntary termination or layoff, managers/employers want to be as transparent as is possible with the departing worker. If proper and healthy performance reviews have been made along the way, the terminated employee may not be particularly surprised. Despite any performance factors (individual or company-wide) that contribute to the separation, information should always be delivered as delicately and kindly as possible. This leads to my third pointer…
Be Kind and Compassionate
It’s often said that “you get more flies with honey than vinegar.” Even in the case of a resignation, there will be mixed feelings that surround the employee, the manager, and most likely, the remaining team. In a termination, there can be even stronger feelings that overwhelm the participants. Keeping procedures kind and compassionate can defuse intense emotions and provide healthy closure for all. Just as “conscious uncouplings” have become a trend in divorces, so too, can employment separations. Having plans to consciously offboard a former employee is a golden opportunity to leave an ethical and positive mark on that person, on you, and on the company.