A guide to the offboarding process (including checklist)

Updated 25 May 2023

It's inevitable that employees sometimes leave an organisation, whether they choose to resign or the company asks them to leave. The organisation's HR department needs to handle someone leaving the company with an effective offboarding process that ensures the departure is well-organised, important information is relayed and that the employment ends on good terms. Understanding the process and knowing what steps to include can help you to develop an appropriate process for your workplace. In this article, we look at the process, including an offboarding checklist.

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What is the offboarding process?

The offboarding process is what leads up to an employee formally leaving an organisation. This could be because they resign or because the employer terminates their contract or makes them redundant. An effective process makes the transition smooth for the employer, employee and their immediate colleagues. Depending on the nature of the organisation, the process might include different things. Elements that are commonly part of the process include:

  • transferring the employee's responsibilities to someone else

  • deactivating work passwords and accounts

  • returning company equipment

  • gathering feedback through exit interviews

Why is offboarding important?

Offboarding is important because it helps to gain feedback about the employee's experience and resolve or take note of any issues before the employee leaves. Former employees who leave on good terms are more likely to speak positively of the organisation. It also means the company handles the practical aspects of the employee leaving. This means things like getting IT equipment or access cards back from the employee, which is important for security reasons. It also includes transferring responsibilities. Some reasons why offboarding is important include:

  • reduces security risks by reclaiming company equipment and access

  • prevents legal issues like contract or compensation disputes

  • manages the logistics of changes to the team

  • gets feedback for improvement

  • ends the employment on positive terms

Related: Why is HR important? An essential guide

The difference between onboarding and offboarding

Although similar, onboarding and offboarding processes work in different ways. Onboarding involves introducing a new hire to the company, including things like setting up passwords and access, allocating equipment and formally signing employment contracts. This happens at the start of an employee's employment and intends to make the process of joining the organisation as straightforward as possible. Offboarding takes place at the end of someone's employment and aims to make the process of leaving the company smooth and straightforward.

Ways to organise offboarding

There are various ways to organise the process. The most suitable approach depends on your organisation and the number of tasks to complete in the process. At some companies, a written checklist of tasks is sufficient to organise the process. For larger organisations or those with more complex processes, there's specialist offboarding software available that can help HR and other teams to manage the process.

Related: Why work in HR? A guide to careers In human resources

How to carry out offboarding

An employee offboarding checklist is a useful tool for running an effective process. It lists all of the necessary tasks when an employee leaves the company. It may take the form of a checkbox list so that HR staff and team managers can understand what has already happened and what ought to be done. The exact process depends on the individual organisation. Factors like the size of the company, the employee's role and the reason for their departure can affect the offboarding checklist.

Departures that the company initiates are likely to involve a different process to departures where the employee has chosen to leave. There are some important steps that form part of most processes:

1. Manage the resignation process

When an employee resigns, HR usually initiates the process. The custom is usually for an employee to send a formal letter or email confirming their resignation and it's important to properly document this. It's also necessary to notify others on the employee's team so that they stay informed of what's happening. At this stage, HR can also start to organise the employee's exit interview. This is usually one of the last interactions the employee has with the organisation but it's an important one. It's worthwhile to start planning early and be properly prepared.

Related: 11 common reasons employees leave their roles (plus tips)

2. Prepare paperwork

Preparing the relevant paperwork is an important part of offboarding. It's worth reviewing the employee's contract to check if there are any terms that affect them leaving the company, for example, non-competing agreements or the requirement to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It's also important to deal with the employee's compensation and taxation documents. This involves processing their final pay, including any additional payments to compensate for annual leave or expenses payments. It's also important to promptly complete the necessary forms so that the employee has the correct tax documents for their new job.

3. Plan a work handover

To make sure the business continues to run smoothly, it's important to plan a work handover. This is necessary whether there's an immediate replacement for the employee or if other colleagues are temporarily covering their work. The employee and their manager usually organise this part of the process between them.

What happens at this stage depends on the employee's role. It could involve them training their replacement before they leave or training existing colleagues on their responsibilities. The employee might also create guides or manuals to support whoever is taking over their role. If the employee is client-facing, contacting key clients to inform them that they're leaving and introducing them to their new contact at the organisation is helpful. The employee and their manager might also wish to decide on key deliverables they aim to complete before leaving the business.

4. Give the employee a checklist

Giving the employee a checklist helps them to remember everything they need to do before leaving. As important it is to create documents to train other employees, it's important for them to return the company equipment they have. This includes anything like IT hardware and mobile phones, keys, parking permits, ID cards and company credit cards. It might be worth checking exactly what equipment has been issued to the employee to ensure they remember to return everything. The employee finally has to clear their desk or locker of any personal belongings so they're ready for someone else to use.

5. Close down or reset accounts

When the employee has finished working at the company, it's important to promptly close down their accounts and reset passwords they have access to. This is vital for security purposes. It also reduces confusion and miscommunication by quickly removing the employee from internal systems. At this stage, it's also helpful to remove the employee from the company's organisational chart, regardless of whether there's already a replacement for them. This may involve informing the IT department to ensure that any accounts are correctly closed.

6. Complete the process

When you're completing the process, you're likely to hold an exit interview. This normally takes place on the employee's last day at the company or soon beforehand. You might also consider other gestures to show the employee your appreciation and help ensure their employment ends on good terms. This could include writing a thank you note to them, arranging a goodbye card and gift or organising a small goodbye party to wish them luck.

What are exit interviews?

Exit interviews are an important element of the majority of processes. An exit interview typically takes place between the employee who is leaving and HR. It helps to clarify why the employee is choosing to leave their job and gives the company a chance to gain feedback that could help them improve and reduce staff turnover in the future. It can be a particularly useful way to gain feedback because an employee who is leaving is likely to be more open and honest than someone who is staying with the organisation.

The questions you ask during an exit interview are likely to vary depending on your organisational goals and the type of job the employee has. You might ask slightly different questions to employees from different teams or areas of the business. Some common questions to ask in an exit interview include:

  • What did you enjoy about working for the organisation?

  • How do you feel about the organisational culture?

  • What did you think of the work-life balance?

  • Would you recommend working for the organisation?

  • Can you suggest any changes the organisation could make?

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