It’s an unfortunate fact that no matter who you hire, eventually they will leave you. Despite this inevitability, though, many employers cringe at the thought of offboarding. Why? Why does someone leaving your company have to be a bad thing? Ann Reiling and Aaron Silbert sat down for a conversation about offboarding and why so many of us are missing the opportunity to get it right.
Ann: Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Why does offboarding make people so uncomfortable?
Aaron: The title says it all, doesn’t it? It bound to happen, but we dread it. Everything about a person leaving an organization has a negative connotation. For so many, it feels like a breakup. There’s that tense giving notice process. Replacing that person. Work being split up. It’s tough. But employers can (and should) turn it into a positive. Someone giving notice means they’ve found a new role to grow their skills. This should be a positive, and a chance for your organization to figure out why that person chose to look outside of their role for their next challenge. With some self-reflection, employers can get stronger when a person leaves a role. So often what we learn from change or even failure is what sets us up to succeed in the future, and when someone leaves, dreading the change and feeling like you failed are common. But don’t bury the negatives when someone gives notice. Jump on the chance to learn from them.
Ann: Yes! The negative emphasis is all wrong. I recently heard a company refer to offboarding as “The Third Act.” What a positive way to think about someone leaving the organization. There can be growth for the company and the employee during this transition, but as Aaron mentioned, fear of change and failure keep us from realizing these opportunities. A bad offboarding is the equivalent of a waiter dropping the check on your table and telling you to get out after having a lovely meal. They went through all the trouble of getting you to the restaurant, giving you great service and then dropping the ball at the end. When companies fumble the offboarding process by “throwing the check down” for their employees, they’re only hurting themselves.
Aaron: Companies beg employees to participate honestly in employee engagement surveys, but they get squeamish or lazy in the exit interview. When someone gives notice, this is your chance to get the most raw and honest feedback possible. Why weren’t you challenged? What changes would you make? Was this a culture problem? Did you need more training? Companies should relish the chance to gather this data to figure out how they can retain their employees, challenge them to grow, and create a culture where talent will flourish. Instead, too many are just sending a SurveyMonkey survey—hardly offboarding best practice.
Ann: 100%! Getting feedback from your departing employees should not come from a survey. There is no dialogue, no context, and no opportunity to continue to grow the relationship with them. If you have the right conversation with an employee when they leave there is a chance that they go get new skills, become better employees and come back to you!
Aaron: I love a boomerang story.
Ann: Me too! But even if someone doesn’t come back, when they’re offboarded properly, they go on to be champions of your brand. They tell their network good things about your company. We talk so much about how much it cost to hire and replace people, but we should be talking about the cost benefit of exiting people properly and its long-term effects.
Aaron: You nailed it when you said: Do the exit interview in person. This feedback is honest, sincere, and can affect your bottom line! Companies want to know how they can save money or make more? I have the answer: Listening carefully to the employees who leave you. And then use your findings to invest in the ones who are still with you. And when they leave, be happy for them. It feels like a loss when someone leaves for a new opportunity, but it can be a surefire win.
Ann: Be happy! This is so huge. You have this good or great performer who leaves the company, and as soon as they leave, you start talking about how they were “just ok.” No! If this person was praised while they’re an employee, they should be praised when they are alumni. When you diminish employees’ work after they leave, everyone left is thinking, “What are they going to say about me when I leave?”
Aaron: It’s all comes down to building a culture that truly cares—you’re happy for people when the leave, you’re interested in hearing their feedback and learn from it, and ultimately, you’re creating a better workplace for your employees.
Ann: Yes. The sooner companies realize it’s okay for people to leave, the more they can learn from offboarding. And maybe letting go of some of the negative connotations of offboarding will encourage employees to approach you about their transitions and intentions earlier…but that is a whole other blog post!