Employee Offboarding: A Step-By-Step Guide

Lo Kidd

February 05, 2021

Saying goodbye is never easy – but when your first employee says farewell, it can be downright difficult! And that goes double if there’s no employee offboarding process in place.

So, while you hope you won’t have to do this anytime soon, it’s inevitable that someone on your team will eventually move on. And when that happens, having an offboarding process ready to go makes the transition that much smoother.  

At Trainual, we recently ran through our first official offboarding. We said goodbye to Kendall Davis – our Community Manager. And while we hate to see her go, we couldn’t be more proud that she’s following her heart. 

Moving on from Trainual had nothing to do with what they could or could not provide me. Or for lack of personal or professional support. Ultimately, it came down to my passions and vision for my career. And it was a relief and rare gift to be shown such understanding.

~ Kendall Davis, former Community Manager at Trainual

Being the first, we decided to make one of her final projects a little special. Together, we would work to document Trainual’s offboarding process – and her experience going through it. And with the process proving to be a huge success, we’re sharing it now with all of you!

What is employee offboarding?

Plainly put, offboarding is the opposite of onboarding. So, instead of the official warm welcome, employee offboarding acts as the formal farewell between your company and your employee.

You can also think of offboarding as the process of tying up all the loose ends before someone’s last day. Meaning, taking care of: 

  • Finishing up final projects
  • Documenting any uncaptured knowledge
  • Gathering all their company equipment
  • Helping the company find the best replacement
  • The actual send-off

Similar to onboarding, your offboarding process should be standardized. Otherwise, what might be a seamless experience for one team member, might feel more like a bad breakup for someone else. 

To avoid this, you need to document what your company considers the best way to offboard. That way, it’s ready whenever you need it. And you can ensure a clean break from any current employee and a smooth transition to the next. 

And, if done right, you’ll also get invaluable insights into why employees choose to leave. That way, you can make your workplace better (AKA increase retention and offboard less often).

Having recently gone through Trainual’s onboarding process, I was now the first to go through the offboarding process. And practicing what Trainual preaches, [the process] was well-built, ensuring my last 2 weeks were as effective as possible.

Why bother investing in offboarding?

I get it – they’re just going to leave anyway. But the reality is how you offboard your employees is just as important as how you onboard them.  

Here’s what I mean:

Return in the future

When someone leaves your company feeling heard, appreciated, and supported, they’re more likely to return if their new adventure doesn’t work out. Or they might come back to fill another position in the future. 

Either way, rehiring prior employees saves time and money (compared to training someone from scratch). Because returning employees are already familiar with your culture and processes. So, it’s just a matter of getting them back up to speed!

Refer great talent

At its best, employee offboarding leaves former employees with a good taste in their mouth. 

And it makes them more likely to recommend your company to talented folks they meet in their next phase. Meaning, you’ll see top talent enter your hiring pipeline – thanks to your ex-employee. 

But even if they aren’t actively referring prospective candidates, they’ll have nothing but great things to say about their time at your company when asked. And people interested in your company will ask. 

Help improve retention

While offboarding is all about your departing employee, it’s equally (if not more important) for your remaining ones. That’s because a robust and supportive offboarding experience shows that you don’t just see people as cogs in the machine. And it can actually encourage employees to stay longer. 

Plus, offboarding gives you space to discuss how your company can be better – straight from your departing employee. That way, you can improve your workplace for your team moving forward.

When does offboarding start?

Your offboarding process begins the moment you know someone is on their way out. And in most cases, there are 2 ways this happens. One, employees leave by voluntary resignation. Or two, they are involuntarily terminated. 

Here’s the difference:

1. Voluntary resignation

Voluntary resignation – or what we like to call the happy ending – is when employees leave on their own accord. In this scenario, the offboarding process is usually catalyzed by their 2-week notice.

Your employee may have lined up another job offer with better pay or benefits. It could be time for their retirement. Or they could be moving on (like in Kendall’s case) to pursue another career opportunity that better aligns with their personal goals.  

But no matter the reason, it’s up to you to make sure they know the company supports them and their decision. And to start educating them on how you can work together to make this transition happen smoothly. 

For example, set up a time as soon as possible for people ops to officially document the verbal resignation. Or require that the employee submits a written letter to their direct manager for your records.

Either way, make sure you capture the employee’s intent to leave and their official last day. From there, the offboarding process will outline the final steps for their time with the company.

🔥 Tip: Document your offboarding process in Trainual. That way, everyone knows exactly what to expect when they decide to move on. Try for free.

I was anxious about sharing the news with my boss. But I was met with continued support from every person on the team throughout my last few weeks at Trainual.

2. Involuntary termination

However, not all exits are ideal. Unlike voluntary resignation, involuntary termination is when the company decides to part ways with an employee. 

This can happen for several reasons, including with cause (such as behavioral, procedural, or financial misconduct) or without cause (such as layoffs). 

In these cases, rather than a 2-week notice sparking the offboarding process, a direct manager and a member of your people ops team sit down with the employee to initiate the separation.

But before this happens, you’ll want to make sure you listed out any legalities involved in the termination. For example: 

  • Have your termination procedure outlined 
  • Include what dictates the right to terminate
  • Document the steps for returning company property
  • Explain severance pay and the circumstances when it’s provided

🔥 Tip: Make sure your termination policy is included in your employee handbook before your first termination happens. This way, you cover all your bases legally – even during an uncomfortable exit.

Employee offboarding checklist

Now that we’ve covered when the offboarding process starts, it’s time to establish your offboarding process. AKA what happens next. 

Each checkpoint refers to a high-level step in our offboarding process. Plus, I’ve even thrown in our offboarding best practices as well. 

“To make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, Trainual structured their employee offboarding as a 2-week Asana board,” Kendall explained after going through it. “And [this structure] makes each task feel digestible and achievable.”

Please note that we made this checklist with voluntary resignations in mind. But if you’re offboarding employees because of involuntary termination, you should pivot your process accordingly.

👉  Don’t figure it out once someone decides to move on! Start building your offboarding process with our free template. Get the template.

Team communication 

Once someone officially resigns, the first step is updating the rest of the team. This is key for getting everyone on the same page and prepared for the future transition. 

We suggest asking the employee who’s leaving to write their own exit update. And you may even want them to draft 2 different versions: one for their immediate team and one for the rest of the company. 

To keep everything in line, we ask our people ops team to officially sign-off before circulating the update. This way, we avoid any gaffes from either party. Plus, it makes sure the company and the individual are aligned and saying the same thing.

If the termination is involuntary (or the employee doesn’t want to write a message), have someone from people ops write the update. Just make sure to give the employee a heads up on what it says. 

Once squared away, update the employee’s direct team and department first. Then, the rest of the company. After all, you don’t want marketing to find out that their Community Manager is leaving from your customer experience team. 

In Kendall’s scenario, she actually decided to hop on one-on-one calls with everyone on our team and give us all a personal heads up. Which, although seemingly small, made all the difference. Not only did it answer our questions, but it also made the transition feel less personal. And it kept morale up all the way through the transition. 

Chris, our CEO, officially announces the transition using a video message in our company Slack channel. That way, he can proactively reinforce how happy we are for the person leaving. Then, in Kendall’s case, her drafted update was the first response to Chris’ video. That way, Trainual broke the news and set the tone – so there was no confusion.

I worked with our awesome People Ops team to craft my personal note. This was a crucial step because it allowed me to share why I’m leaving in my own words. And to thank [the CEO] for the kind words he said about my time at the company.

External communication 

Once the news breaks at your company, let all their company contacts know as soon as possible. If you wait too long on this, you risk your vendors, clients, whoever to find out from someone else – which could fracture the relationship. 

So, ideally, you want the person leaving to reach out personally to their contacts. They should take time to explain the exit updates. Then, connect them with their new point of contact and provide any expected next steps. 

From there, wash and repeat with all vendors, partners, or clients this employee closely interacted with. That is unless you run a high-contact business, like a grocery store or coffee shop. Then, you probably don’t need to tell every customer – but you might want to mention it to your regulars. 

Depending on circumstances, your company might decide that it’d be better if someone else breaks the news to these stakeholders. In this case, have the person taking over the relationship or a company leader reach out instead. 

But still provide the same information (exit update, new contact, and next steps included). That way, you can smoothly transition from one relationship to the next. 

Often, this step only applies to forward-facing roles (like Sales positions). So, it may not be necessary every time an employee offboards. If you’re losing a more behind the scenes team member, like Kendall, you can skip ahead to the next step.

🔥 Tip: Like the internal communication process, you might want your leaving employee to draft (and have people ops approve) a message that goes out to all their contacts.

Update Trainual

At this point in the employee offboarding process, it’s critical to have the person review their role documentation. Because the reality is tasks change, processes adapt, and systems die off during an employee’s tenure. 

And the only way that their replacement will know these new best practices is if the documentation is up to date. 

So, if you’re process geeks like us, chances are good you already have documentation on the person’s role. This includes all processes, SOPs, best practices, and systems they were responsible for. 

And it’s stored in an easy-to-access place (call us biased – but we love Trainual for this). That way, it’s easy for the employee to update the content before they leave. And even easier for you to assign it out to whoever fills that role next – so they’re up to speed in no time.

If this is the case, make sure every offboarding employee: 

  1. Reviews existing documentation of all duties related to their role
  2. Updates any process documentation where needed
  3. Creates new training content for anything that isn’t documented

I used Trainual to help my team take over my responsibilities in the interim. This way, nothing would come grinding to a halt while they hired someone new. And I didn’t feel like I was leaving them hanging out to dry.

If you don’t have documentation yet, have your offboarding employee create training content on their role as one of their final projects.

Role responsibilities

At Trainual, we provide every new hire with a job scorecard when they’re onboarding. That way, they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them from Day 1. Key responsibilities, mundane recurring tasks, and quantifiable success metrics included.

But responsibilities get passed around, tasks sometimes get moved off peoples’ plates, and new things likely end up on it. And over time, these scorecards end up out of date. 

The offboarding process is the last chance to update it before someone leaves. That way, you know what key responsibilities could be dropped if not immediately delegated to someone else. 

Plus, the updated scorecard gives you a better picture of what the role evolved into. AKA what you should be hiring for next.

We ask our offboarding employees to update their own scorecard. After all, they’re the ones who actually know everything that they were responsible for. 

And we also ask them to take one more swing through the training content once it’s updated. This way, we can confirm that the documentation reflects all the role’s current duties – not just whatever the person was responsible for when they started. 

Rounding out the 2-week plan, my last offboarding tasks included making a list of my responsibilities to share and delegate with my manager. And returning my equipment (safely and with social distancing in mind).

Transition of responsibilities

As tasks and responsibilities are documented, start taking them off the offboarding employee’s plate. And delegate them to someone else – even if just for the interim. 

🔥 Tip: When updating their job scorecard, have departing employees mark who they think could best take on each task. Their manager can then delegate based on these recommendations and bandwidth.

Ideally, you want to start transitioning responsibilities as soon as possible. But with no less than a week before their last day. This ensures the offboarding employee is still around while the person taking on the task is cross-training. AKA they can answer any questions if the documentation isn’t clear.

For Kendall’s case, several of her responsibilities could be scheduled out and automated for a short period – like the social calendar. 

And while it would still require someone to check that the content was relevant and timely, this approach made a key responsibility hands-off. Meaning, we had a few months before it would be a heavy lift for the team. 

My biggest worry was leaving the team overloaded with my work or unfamiliar with how to manage our social content. But thanks to the support of the Trainual team, the thoughtful Asana board, and the help of our People Ops, I can trust we’re fully covered.

Meet with people ops

Exit interviews are a powerful tool for gaining honest feedback and improving the work environment for existing employees. 

And while exit interviews can be done in writing, we find that they’re much more impactful when conducted face-to-face. So, we set aside an hour in their last 2 weeks to chat in the office or over Zoom. 

Most companies have their people ops team host these interviews (Trainual included). But you can also have the direct manager conduct it as well.

As a general rule, these interviews should be focused on gathering information and perspective. This includes:

  • Why your employee decided to leave
  • What they liked and disliked about the company
  • Whether the job description reflected their actual work
  • What you can do to improve to make the workplace.

We also use exit interviews as an opportunity to talk through what the role should look like moving forward. Meaning, we ask the offboarding employee to review their role’s job description. And we ask them what skills or knowledge their replacement will need. 

We also use the updated scorecard to inform what the next iteration of the role will look like. And a lot of the time, it might look totally different. 

For example, Kendall was our Community Manager. But we realized that we didn’t necessarily want to rehire her exact position. 

Instead, we used what we learned in the offboarding process and decided to hire for 2 roles on the other end: a Marketing Specialist position and a Paid Ads Strategist.

Return company property

As their projects wrap up, coordinate a date, time, and location for your offboarding employee to drop off the equipment with a member of your people ops team. 

Usually, you’ll save this task for the very last day. That way, their last 2 weeks are as productive as possible. 

We like to make a list of all the hardware they should bring with them. 

This might include: 

  • A company laptop
  • Their company credit card
  • Their office keycard
  • Any borrowed equipment

Around this point, your company will also need to start deactivating all of the employee’s accounts. 

This includes – but is not limited to – their company email, access to your project management tool, and their Trainual account. That way, they can’t access your company data once they leave.

If you start locking their accounts before their last day, just be sure to give them a heads up! Otherwise, you might accidentally lock them out of a tool they need before they finish up their last few projects.

Last day logistics

According to Kendall, the last day will be weird – and there’s no sugarcoating that. (And seeing it from the other end, I have to agree.) But you can keep the day moving with a few last-day logistics. 

If you’re working in person, this is the day the employee can officially clear off their desk and gather any personal items from the office. Or, if your team is remote, set up a time to meet virtually as a team and say goodbye. 

The Trainual marketing team is still 100% remote. So, to celebrate Kendall’s last day, we threw a marketing happy hour for her. And we used the time to share our favorite Kendall stories, our wildest adventures, and which type of clam chowder is better. (It was a big hit!)

But mostly, we made sure that Kendall knew that there are no hard feelings. And to reinforce that the relationships she made at Trainual didn’t have to end there. 

Say goodbyes

Whatever you choose to do to mark that last day, we have one non-negotiable recommendation: absolutely no “Irish exits.” 

This final moment is pivotal to your offboarding process. And no matter how great the person’s time at your company was, people will always remember if leaving the office felt more like getting chased off. 

So, set time aside to really say goodbye. And exchange personal contact information (like cell phone numbers or social media) if your team hasn’t already. We promise you won’t regret it! 

That’s because losing an employee isn’t something any business leader wants to prepare for. But by having a plan – one that outlines the more thoughtful touches – you can actually support your team during these last 2 weeks – and set everyone up for success moving forward.

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