offboarding checklist
Training & Learning

The Ultimate Offboarding Checklist for Graceful Exits

The way a person breaks up with you tells you a lot more about their character than when you were dating them. The same goes for how a company handles offboarding when an employee leaves. 

Just like onboarding is your chance to make a great first impression, offboarding provides an opportunity to leave a lasting impression and “turn departing employees into loyal alumni.” After all, professional networks are so interconnected that your former employees may become your future customers, suppliers, mentors, and even rehires. Plus, your current employees are watching how you treat employees who no longer serve you—and a graceful goodbye is a telling reminder of your company culture and your commitment to the workforce.

Most importantly, your employees are your knowledge bank. As they work and grow in their roles at your company, they are problem-solving, innovating, and learning to do their jobs more productively. When an employee exits your doors, all that information could leave with them, and a last-minute knowledge transfer document won’t be able to capture the true breadth of information they have. Offboarding prepares you for all that and more. 

Whether you’re handling voluntary resignation, retirement, or layoffs, an employee offboarding checklist is your key to ensuring a seamless offboarding process from the moment you receive a letter of resignation to an employee’s last day.

Professional networks are so interconnected that your former employees may become your future customers, suppliers, mentors, and even rehires.

The key components of an offboarding process go beyond exit interviews

Offboarding comprises much more than an exit interview and a final paycheck. Done well, your employee offboarding process preserves not just institutional knowledge but also your relationship with the outgoing employee. A comprehensive offboarding checklist would include the steps for accepting a resignation, communication plan, knowledge transfer, recovering company assets, revoking access to tools, and settling final payments. 

However, be sensitive to the nature of the exit. From mass quitting during the Great Resignation to layoffs during the recent recession, many industries have been in a state of flux, and goodbyes have become more frequent. The same employee offboarding process isn’t going to work for every scenario, so be prepared to adapt this process to each unique situation along the way.

 The same employee offboarding process isn’t going to work for every scenario.

Accept a resignation letter and communicate the offboarding process

Resignations can be a surprise, or you may have expected an employee to move on. Either way, your employees deserve a formal acceptance of their resignation in a scheduled meeting or a personalized email. Congratulate them, and if they’ve given a notice period, thank them for it. Remember, in the US, employees are not legally required to give two weeks’ notice, but it is standard practice, so most resignations give you time to execute your offboarding process and part ways on good terms.

If a high-performing employee is leaving for a better role or a higher salary, use your meeting to make a counter offer in a last bid to encourage them to stay. Whether they accept or not, let them know how much you’ve valued their time and work at the company. 

If they decline the offer, communicate what’s coming in the next two weeks so that the departing employee knows what to expect and is set up for a smooth transition.

In the case of layoffs, communication is best done in a personal meeting. It’s important to communicate the departure terms clearly but with compassion. Give employees time to digest the news and leave the room open for questions.

Alert the People Operations department

Once you’ve formally accepted an employee’s resignation, alert the Human Resources or People Operations department. Inform them of the departing employee’s end date so that any payouts can be calculated and benefits terminated. An error in or miscommunication of this date can lead to overpayment if an employee gets paid after they’ve left the company. This is both embarrassing to communicate and tiresome to recoup. 

If you’re terminating employees, point them to resources such as unemployment benefits and any group health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and verify their mailing addresses to send W-2 slips and any other documents.

Communicate employee exit to the team and to the entire company 

Keep in mind that every employee has a work friend or two who probably know of their departure even before they officially resign. Word about layoffs, too, can get around pretty quickly and can lead to rumors and conjecture. A well-organized communication plan helps curb office gossip because employees trust that they will be informed of any exits in a timely manner.

Your communication plan depends on your company culture and the size of your team. If the employee is part of a close-knit team within a larger company, it’s best to first communicate the departure to their immediate team. Ask the employee if they’d like to make an announcement before you do, perhaps in a team meeting or through an informal message in your team channel, followed up by a company-wide announcement. For smaller companies, it’s best to communicate an employee’s exit to the entire team at the same time. 

If you’re in the unfortunate situation of handling layoffs, you need a communication plan rooted in empathy, not a robot delivering the news or a three-minute Zoom call that treats the termination like an administrative task. Draft a compassionate message that explains the layoffs, the reasons behind the decision, and why it was a last resort for the company. Create a plan to help employees find new opportunities by making introductions and offering references. 

If you’re in the unfortunate situation of handling layoffs, you need a communication plan rooted in empathy, not a robot delivering the news or a three-minute Zoom call.

Begin your knowledge transfer process

Ideally, you have a knowledge management system to constantly document and store employee knowledge through their tenure. That way, you can focus on the human aspect of offboarding instead of stressing employees out in their last days with additional tasks and questions.

But in the absence of a knowledge management system, you need to get the essential information to keep moving forward. If you’ve already hired a candidate or a current employee is moving into the now-vacant role, set up a meeting so that the departing employee can coach the successor. You can also request that the departing employee transfer ownership of documents in the system or record important information in written documents that you can hand over for asynchronous learning. For roles that interact with customers or suppliers outside the company, it’s important to make introductions to the employee filling the role, update contact information, and facilitate a seamless handover.

But a meeting or a bunch of documents can’t comprehensively cover every aspect of a job. We recommend using a collaborative learning management system (LMS) even before you need to offboard an employee. Through the entire employee journey, you can encourage them to create courses about a task they learned to do more productively or resources they gathered along the way that helped them improve. These courses don’t need to be hour-long sessions like traditional training methods, just quick and easy skillshares or tutorials that help new employees ramp up quickly on critical aspects of the job. 

With companies switching to remote and hybrid work, online training courses offered in bite-sized chunks are far more accessible. Plus, employees are more engaged when they choose to take training at their convenience and are more likely to complete the course. Encourage offboarding employees to create any last-minute courses to keep institutional knowledge within your company.

Employees may also have stored information and ideas in private documents during their tenure, which you are in danger of losing once they leave. Remind them to create a quick course on any privately stored material as part of the knowledge transfer. 

Encourage offboarding employees to create any last-minute courses to keep institutional knowledge within your company.

Set up an exit interview

An exit interview is pivotal to the employee’s offboarding experience and reduces further turnover at your company. A study by Gallup noted that 52% of employees who resign voluntarily say their manager or company could have made efforts to encourage them to stay. This could be more conversations about their career growth, better support at work, or learning and development opportunities

While an exit interview may be too late to retain a departing employee, honest feedback can help you make improvements in the workplace to prevent others from leaving.

Make the exit interview a time to reflect on the aspects that aren’t working at your organization: 

  • Schedule a face-to-face exit interview but keep it optional. Some employees may choose not to participate, especially if they are leaving on an unhappy note. Let these employees know how much you would value their feedback but leave the final decision to them.
  • Be ready to listen to feedback in an objective manner so that you can use it to make concrete changes.
  • A standardized list of questions comes in handy but let the conversation take its course too. Sometimes, the best feedback comes from an open-ended conversation. Send the questions beforehand so the employee has time to think about their response.
  • Encourage employees to be honest and assure them that their responses will be confidential and only used to implement positive changes at the company. This will lead to increased trust in the process.
  • Identify trends in the reasons behind departures and share the feedback with leadership.

Make the exit interview a time to reflect on the aspects that aren’t working at your organization.

Recover company property

You probably have a list of equipment that was given to the employee when they joined your organization. If you don’t, you can use your learning management system (LMS) to create one and include it as part of an automation workflow. Typically, company property includes laptops, tablets, phones, security badges, credit cards, keys, or company cars. Send the employee a list of company assets they need to return so that there’s no confusion. If you’re a remote company, send prepaid envelopes or boxes for easy and timely returns. 

Deactivate accounts and disable permissions

Employees have access to sensitive data like passwords, access codes, and customer details. Your IT department needs to play an active role in the offboarding process. Inform the IT department of an employee’s last day of work so that all access and permissions are revoked on or before then. 

The increasing use of cloud technology and the switch to remote work has meant that employees can easily access and take confidential data with them when they leave. The Annual Data Exposure Report 2022 reveals that 98% of leaders and cybersecurity professionals are worried that the Great Resignation has further fueled this trend and employees unknowingly or intentionally take sensitive data when they leave. 

With layoffs, there may be a larger cybersecurity threat as employees could be disgruntled and have natural reactions to such news by infiltrating sensitive data.

Win departing employees over with a farewell email

A farewell email or company-wide message is your chance to be “grandiose”—celebrate an employee’s accomplishments during their tenure and encourage them to stay connected. 

According to behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman’s “peak-end rule,” people remember and judge an experience by the feeling at its peak and at its end. After all, the last days may be an emotional and even jittery time for an employee. They leave behind familiar workplace relationships and responsibilities to move on to new ventures. A recognition of their skills and achievements gives them a vote of confidence and helps them leave with a warm feeling about your company. 

And a personal message like a thoughtful farewell email might become the turning point to convert an exiting worker into a loyal alum or even a boomerang employee. 

Get ahead of the game with stay interviews 

Resignations are a reality, and you need an offboarding checklist in place, but it’s best to be proactive and focus on employee retention by encouraging managers to conduct stay interviews. A stay interview includes a conversation with your current employees about their role, responsibilities, and how they’re feeling at work. It’s an opportunity to learn about their goals, what fulfills them at work, and how you can help them be productive and happy so they’ll stay with your company.