It may have taken a global pandemic but offboarding and alumni management are finally getting the attention they rightly deserve.
A lot has changed in the world of work since I joined the workforce. Like many of my peers, I’ve endured my fair share of exit surveys and sat through several uncomfortable exit interviews where HR reps seemed to be even less enthused about the occasion than I was.
I don’t recall the term ‘offboarding’ being used much back then and, from memory, only the most forward-thinking HR departments were concerned about making departing employees’ experience a good one. But, fast forward twelve years — and one devastating global pandemic later — and offboarding is finally getting the attention it deserves, especially as many employers have woken up to the fact that boomerang hires are incredibly valuable. And given the current state of the labor market, and the speed at which millennials are changing jobs, the need for better offboarding techniques and technologies has never been greater.
“If 93% of millennials move for a promotion and the workforce is so mobile, why would you stop learning and development when people leave? Offboarding shouldn’t mean ‘ok, thank you, goodbye’,” Emma Sinclair, co-founder of Enterprise Alumni, tells me. She’s right — former employees can not only return as boomerang hires, they can also be highly valuable company ambassadors and potentially become customers further down the line.
Several HR technology platforms — including Sinclair’s — allow people teams to manage their alumni as part of their offboarding strategy but Holger Muller, VP and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research, rightly points out to me that offboarding “is not a software category yet.” However, this may change soon.
According to Industry Arc, the global market for employee offboarding software is expected to reach $769 million by 2025; coinciding with the rise of hybrid or remote working as companies look to offer employees more flexibility in the post-pandemic world.
Again, Muller is right to note that “working from home does not change it [offboarding] much. It gets a little harder as someone needs to collect badges and hardware from a remote employee, but enterprises have done that before. The challenge now is volume.”
While offboarding pre-pandemic may have been as ‘simple’ as revoking access to buildings, conducting exit surveys, and ensuring employees were taken off payroll, this no longer suffices.
In the midst of ‘The Great Return,’ the modern workplace requires HR to establish a concrete offboarding strategy whereby an employee leaving isn’t a final goodbye and alumni management is given serious thought and budget consideration.
“HR can play an orchestrating role to assist employees as they become alumni to build programs to support this new relationship — similar to the manner that universities recruit students (admissions), manage their educational program (university operations) and their alumni status (office of alumni),” says Jeff Schwartz, Vice President of Insights and Impact at Gloat, a talent management platform.
Offboarding is no longer just about compliance. HR now needs to establish and roll out a holistic offboarding program that’s aligned with its overall talent management policies and practises.
As George Sample, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s HR business partner manager, says, “The tighter the competition and the tougher the battle for talent in your industry, the more imperative it is to have dedicated and thoughtful offboarding efforts.
Where has HR gone wrong in the past?
As a function, HR is now responsible for every employee touchpoint across the entire organization from onboarding to offboarding, and if it is to succeed, it must live by the mantra of “every moment matters.”
With such an expanding remit of responsibilities, it’s important to look back and see where the function has struggled in the past, to ensure that, going forward, the offboarding experience is a positive one for employees and employers.
Alejandro Bello Perez co-founded RECREWIT, a recruitment consultancy seeking to make the industry more transparent and has heard from candidates how bad offboarding can be.
“HR often goes wrong when it comes to offboarding when it’s just a box-ticking exercise and they fail to ask relevant questions that speak to that employee’s personal experiences in the company or when employees avoid having an honest conversation due to fear of burning a bridge with the company,” he tells me.
Sophie Theen, chief people and customer officer at Oakam, a firm seeking to fight financial exclusion, agrees with him.
“I think the main challenge in offboarding has always been the employer’s ability to actually give feedback well. You can have the best process for offboarding but if the individual’s resignation or termination ever comes as a shock to either party, then the journey to exit will almost never be smooth,“ she adds.
“In my opinion, people teams should spend more time investigating the reasons why people are leaving and try to curb these factors throughout the whole lifecycle of the employee rather than being reactive to this, or rely too heavily on ‘building a great process.’ This is something most HR teams still aren’t thinking about because often, it’s not part of the retention strategy discussions,” says Theen.
Offboarding begins at onboarding
As strange as it may sound, HR leaders need to start their offboarding programs at the moment of hiring, telling all new hires that they hope they will stay with the company until retirement. But because that’s not always the case, HR needs to let newbies know that resources exist to help them build their careers both inside and outside the confines of the organization.
These conversations need to continue throughout the employee’s tenure and although uncomfortable, managers must feel empowered to acknowledge that workers may need to leave the organization to fulfil their goals elsewhere. This is a huge mindset shift but if done well — and with an engaging and effective alumni management strategy in place — it can return huge benefits.
Clear communication and transparency are also key. “A good offboarding to me is when the message about a person leaving is clear and transparent to the company,” Theen notes.
It’s also important to have an efficient process to shut down and collect employee assets — and it may be worth outsourcing this to a provider who can ensure this is done smoothly.
Think of offboarding as a meaningful data and feedback collection exercise. “This is your final chance to find out why this person is leaving,” Theen adds.
And don’t underestimate the importance of an exit interview. If done successfully, this can be the perfect chance to extract valuable information from a departing employee.
When it comes to offboarding, the tide has already changed and HR must continue to demonstrate resilience to adapt and thrive in the modern workplace. Employees are more empowered, expectations are higher, and it’s important to acknowledge that the world of work has changed forever.