sign reading "goodbye friends" left on a conference room table
PHOTO: Jan Tinneberg

The off-boarding process, what happens when a person leaves a company, doesn't generally get much attention in discussions about the digital employee experience. The process itself is just that — a process — and it tends to be efficient and impersonal, a time to return equipment and minimize the risk of any commercial or sensitive information or intellectual capital going to the new employer.

The status of a person also suddenly changes. After handing in their notice, an individual can find themselves frozen out of decision-making, and treated as if they have already left the building. Sometimes the opposite happens, and they are utilized to tie up every single loose-end, and the last few weeks are (potentially) exhausting.

Off-Boarding and the Digital Employee Experience

In the off-boarding process, the concerns of the employer are paramount. That’s understandable. But it often results in an experience where the person leaving feels quite alien — a reminder of their suddenly far-less-important status. If that person can’t wait to leave the organization, that's fine, but it can feel like an anticlimactic denouement to years of service and make some people feel highly underappreciated.

A bad off-boarding experience can sour a person's view of their time at an organization, and that’s a real shame.

As digital workplace professionals, I believe we should pay a little more attention to the digital off-boarding experience for the person leaving, as well as the alumni experience once the person has actually left.

When organizations look at the digital employee experience and map that to the entire lifecycle of an individual’s time at a company, they understandably invest more in the onboarding phase and into providing the everyday digital workplace. But completely ignoring the off-boarding and alumni experience is a mistake.

Crafting a decent digital off-boarding experience and ensuring a person feels valued for the contribution they have made during their employment makes real sense for a number of reasons.  Here are a few examples.

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Strengthening Organizational Culture

Celebrating employees who are leaving and publicly acknowledging their contribution to the company on digital channels such as the intranet or on social platforms can be a great way to nurture a positive company culture. It also shows a level of maturity — acknowledging that people do leave — and the organization is comfortable with that fact. Obviously, this might not be appropriate for all employees, for example those who have only been at a company for a few months or are leaving in less-than-perfect circumstances.

Returning Employees

In some industries, for example in the hospitality and leisure sector, a younger workforce tends to be more fluid and move in and out of employment. Sometimes they return to the same employer, saving the organization significant costs in recruitment and training.

One very well-known global restaurant brand has a main portal where employees maintain a digital presence after they leave. This not only means they retain a digital connection to the company, but it’s also far easier to fully reactivate their credentials if they rejoin. A similar situation might also apply to industries which employ many contractors or seasonal workers who return year after year. Of course, in the gig economy, a clear definition of a “returning worker” becomes increasingly difficult.

Related Article: 7 Tips for Conducting Better Exit Interviews

Alumni as Clients and Referrers

Some professional services organizations choose to invest in alumni networks because those who leave can prove to be powerful referrers. For example, I used to work for a large accountancy firm. I helped set up an alumni portal and one of the business cases for this was because former staff often ended up as clients of the firm, referred other clients, or occasionally recommended new staff to join the company. As an alumni, I am still able to access a site which offers some decent corporate discounts. Getting an invitation to the alumni portal was also part of the digital off-boarding experience.

Brand Advocacy

Former employees can be powerful advocates of a company’s brand. Just as employee advocacy initiatives can help spread brand messages through the personal social media channels of employees, a similar approach can be taken with alumni.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create Exceptional Employee Experiences

Knowledge Management

Some companies have formal or informal knowledge management processes to try and capture the knowledge of employees. These include exit interviews, job handovers and the facilitated and structured capture of what people know. At times this can involve various digital workplace tools such as wikis. When I was a knowledge manager I experimented with structured "knowledge-capture" interviews of people leaving the organization. While I’m not sure I did much to add to our organization’s corporate memory, the people I interviewed said they felt valued by the process. We could do more to capture the expertise of those who depart and alumni.

Let’s Reevaluate the Off-Boarding Experience

We could do many things to improve the off-boarding experience that could help drive efficiencies and help employees feel a little more appreciated. In fact, the principles we need to apply to onboarding are not really that different to how we might approach crafting good digital employee experiences for other stages of the employment life cycle. Off-boarding just seems to be a low priority for most digital workplace and HR teams. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate that prioritization and look now at ways to improve the experience.