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Most organizations strive to create a lasting impression on employees when they join for the first time. However, according to recent studies on company culture, the clearest message of whether a company lives up to its commitments and values is in the way it treats those that leave and the relationship it has with previous employees.
More and more companies are waking up to the fact that building a humane and well-run offboarding program can reflect positively on the impression of the company to its workers and go a long way towards improving the overall culture of the company.
Many companies make the mistake of not paying enough attention to the exit process. According to recent studies, almost one third of corporate alumni maintain connections with previous employers as vendors, partners or clients. Furthermore, the study points out that 15% of new hires come from alumni rehires and referrals.
This is validated by the ‘peak rule’ which was coined by the behavioral scientist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman who is of the opinion that most people judge an experience on the basis of how they felt at its most intense point- the peak- and at its end. Therefore, employees pay more attention to how companies treat departing employees than how they welcome new hires. The goodwill built between a company and its departing employee can be ruined by an offboarding experience that is poorly managed. This is because once employees leave, they will talk about how they were treated on the way out and this can affect the talent pool that might want to work at the company. This is why companies should be mindful of how their current and former employees think of the company.
The company’s HR and talent management policies should incorporate holistic offboarding programs that involve establishing objectives for the offboarding program supporting the company’s talent needs. Each company is different in terms of its size, strategy, culture and turnover rate and the extent to which they invest in offboarding programs will reflect that. However, a good starting point for each company is to have a sound, legal set up in place to ensure that departing employees are well managed. This protects the company from legal litigation through the establishment of systematic processes and guidelines for departing employees.
This brings us to the question of what a holistic offboarding program should look like. There are examples of some companies that have done this well by paying continual attention to offboarding rather than approaching it as a singular event. This is done by making their programs go far beyond a well-executed handoff of work and responsibilities and an exit interview.
Infact, companies that incorporate successful offboarding programs begin at the moment of hiring a new employee by having career discussions with the new employees and making them aware of the existence of company resources to help employees build their careers both inside and outside the organization. As a manager, it is imperative that in the hiring process one recognises the reasons behind exiting employees. The reason for this has been shown in recent studies that by removing the stigma attached to turnover, managers and companies can have more honest and true discussions with their employees about career-development. Many executives and managers acknowledge the fact that the idea of ‘company man/woman’ has led to people switching jobs several times during the course of their career. In order to cash in on this development, more and more companies make discussions about their offboarding programs a part of their interview process with prospective hires.
The alumni network is another example of how leaving employees are managed by the company and a relationship is maintained through which former employees are made to feel a continuous part of the company even after they leave.
Managers can have honest talks with subordinates about professional growth. They can task employees with challenging assignments in order to strengthen their résumés, promote networking opportunities with external colleagues or for networking purposes, or help provide mentorship opportunities internally to guide the employees with regards to their career development. Some companies have in-house ‘outskilling’ programs that help employees build their capacities and skills in order to advance their careers and to make them more attractive to hiring managers when they decide to leave.
Although it may sound counter-productive for companies to be receptive to employee departure, the truth is that in the long run, it actually helps the company by giving them access to data to track employees’ satisfaction and intentions to leave. This in turn, prevents companies from being blindsided and helps human resource forecasting., leading to honest, open discussions and amicable separations. This creates good lasting impressions with former employees who can refer new hires and spread positive impressions of the company within their circle of influence.
For companies that have formal alumni communities, the occasion of someone leaving can be an opportunity to officially welcome them to the alumni group. Building these communities gives companies the chance to highlight achievements and successes of both alumni and current employees. Former employees can be invited for professional development workshops and speaker series. The experience is inspiring for former employees and instils positive feelings between the employee and their previous company. Alumni communities can hold reunion events which can offer companies a chance to update alumni on the firm’s direction and strategy and to invite feedback from them. Some companies offer alumni extended access to employee perks such as discount programs and employee-assistance programs. These acts of goodwill in turn pay back to the company when the former employees act as referral sources or even return to work for the company in some capacity.
Companies should help departing employees in finding new jobs through networking and adding their profiles to the talent directory. Other examples include providing job-search services such as career assessment, assistance with financial planning and individual brand development. Some companies even offer psychological counselling to help departing employees manage their emotions.
Offboarding can be a learning experience not only for the departing employees but for the company as well. Company management can use offboarding to gather important data to formulate best practices and to modify company policies and practices. Offboarding can also be a good time to discuss expectations of departing employees and how they wish to remain connected to their former company. It is always a good idea to have follow-up interviews after three and six months to assess how the employees felt about their exit experience.
In conclusion, leaving a job can be a scary prospect, no matter how fluid the labor market. There is no one-size-fits-all. How each company handles it’s offboarding varies and depends on the company size and the industry it is in. In such scenarios, offboarding practices that ensure amicable separations for departing employees by acknowledging their contributions go a long way in building long lasting positive relations.
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