Offboarding Employees (How To Say Goodbye)

Mary Best
August 9, 2017

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a team member or colleague. I sat down with Avantha Arachchi, Senior People Operations Manager at Tatcha, to talk about how we’ve both handled employee departures in our people operations/HR roles.

In this article, I'll be outlining the 3 most common reasons for an employee leaving your company, along with some tips for handling the offboarding process smoothly and professionally:

1. Voluntary Departures

Hopefully, a voluntary departure means an exciting new opportunity for a colleague. Here’s what you need to plan for, and where you should offer help to the employee and their manager:

  • Have a communications plan: Typically either the teammate or their manager will communicate out to the broader group via email or a quick team get together. Consider how broad you want the communication to be. It will vary depending on the size of your organization and the seniority level of the person leaving.
  • Organize a celebration: Make sure the team gets notified with enough time to organize a happy hour, goodbye cards, hugs, and tears. Remember, you want the team member to leave with the best memories possible. Your alums are key to your reputation. Sending them out with love will help build your brand as an employer.
  • Conduct an exit interview: Employees on their way out can be refreshingly honest about your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t forget to ask them for advice on how you can improve.
  • Rally the troops: It is not uncommon for employees to start to worry when high performers, key management, or huge culture contributors leave. The “I have a better opportunity” can feel like code words for “I know something you don’t.” To rally your team around the overall mission, get creative and re-energize the team with an offsite, unique happy hour, or a team-building activity.

2. Terminations 

We strive to hire the perfect fit for the role, for the team, and for the overall company. It doesn’t always work out that way, which is ok. Here are guidelines on how you should communicate a termination to other team members:

  • Keep it quick: Make sure you have a clear policy in place regarding how quickly the team member is off-boarded. At most companies, they leave the same day. Your communication to the team should happen immediately afterward.
  • Have a transition game plan: Be mindful of the employees who interacted daily with the team member. Make sure the manager of that team sets aside time to have 1:1s with team members. Maybe schedule them for him or her. They should have an action plan to communicate who will take on the leftover responsibilities.
  • Keep it positive: To make sure the decision doesn’t have a negative impact on morale, ask the manager if they need help with talking points. They shouldn’t allude to poor performance.

3. Layoffs 

Saying goodbye to a group, a city team, or any large percentage of the company is very hard and very delicate. Careful planning and consideration for each individual’s livelihood have to be taken into consideration. Start with the following:

  • Cadence the conversations: Layoffs should always start with individual conversations between each employee, their manager, and maybe the CEO, if it feels right. Get all your ducks in a row and help schedule these conversations in a short time frame so that your leadership can be the first to let the rest of the team know.
  • Help leadership craft messaging: Bring together key company leaders to craft an internal messaging plan. Have answers to questions the team will inevitably ask. Why is this happening? What does it mean for our future? How are we helping the employees who are being let go? At the types of companies where many of us work (small and agile), the needs of the company and the needs of each role change often and quickly. That’s ok. Be honest in how you communicate.
  • Do damage control: Following layoffs, pull the entire remaining team together and explain the reasoning. A company town hall or all-hands is a great format to have a transparent and open conversation. In the past I have had full company meetings, then allowed teams to break off into departments to have more intimate conversations around what the new day-to-day will look like and what role their department will play in taking on some of the responsibilities of those who have been let go.

Whether it be voluntary or forced, the onus is on you and your leadership to clearly communicate the departure and keep up morale. Our teams should be close-knit. You can maintain cohesion and morale by having a game plan, knowing who will be taking on the former employee’s responsibilities and setting aside time to have conversations. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun, but it’s incredibly important!

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