Employees To Alumni: How To Turn Offboarding Into Future Opportunities

Steps to take during offboarding to ensure that departing employees become alumni and a source of future opportunities for the business.

A professionally structured offboarding process – that includes welcoming departing employees to your alumni network – is a highly efficient way to manage talent, encourage future collaboration, and generate long-term value for the company.

It can turn a regrettable loss into a good thing, providing a clear path for alumni to re-enter and stay involved with the organization.

The Undeniable Value In Offboarding

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report shows that the average job tenure in the United States is down to 4.1 years. Despite this churn, organizations are neglecting the offboarding process employees go through.

According to the Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), HR spends eight times more time creating, implementing, and administering onboarding programs than offboarding programs.

The result is, employees often leave a company feeling rejected and resented. Communication is abruptly cut off, and with that, any loyalty they would have shown to the company evaporates.

The good news is, companies are realizing the value of embracing leavers and creating a streamlined and positive offboarding process.

The standard procedures of offboarding a departing employee are well known and essential to mitigate legal and security threats and enable knowledge transfer. However, offboarding in the 21st century has added a host of new tasks to the process.

Harvard Business Review says these offboarding practices include personal engagements such as acknowledging departing employees for their contributions to the organization. It entails supporting them by providing training and other resources to assist in their transition.

Spending time on a comprehensive offboarding experience helps the employer capture and integrate feedback that can, in turn, be used to restructure deficiencies in company processes and structure.

Ultimately modern-day offboarding has the added – but essential – aim of converting former employees to alumni who may become customers, suppliers, boomerang employees, mentors to current workers, and ambassadors for the brand.

How To Transform Offboarding Into Future Business Opportunities

There’s real value in maintaining a connection to former employees. The link can earn referrals, support recruitment, boost sales and marketing, aid in business development, or create brand advocates. Employers invest so much in the success of their employees; why stop at the moment of leaving?

As Daniel Kahneman, Scientist and Nobel Laureate, explains in his “peak-end rule” theory: people generally judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak and the end of the experience. These feelings tend to cloud out the rest. As an employer, you want the ex-employee to ‘leave on a high.’

1. Frame The Departure In The Right Way

It may seem counterintuitive to celebrate the fact that an employee is leaving. However, it is an essential step if you are to maintain a relationship in the future. 

Frame offboarding in a positive light. Offer the departing worker a public thank-you, organize a send-off or ‘graduation’ party, or give the leaver emeritus status within the business, as academic institutions do. Expressing genuine excitement for their new position goes a long way in ensuring you part on good terms.

How To Celebrate Business Leavers

2. Offer A One-On-One Exit Interview Format

No need to pull in the whole team for this meeting. Set up a one-on-one interview that more closely resembles a conversation than a formal Q&A session. Formatting it this way gives the employee a degree of privacy to speak their mind.

3. Remove Direct-Line Managers From The Interview Room

Ensure it’s not the employee’s direct manager doing the exit interview. Unless they had a great relationship, the departing employee might feel cornered and are less likely to be sincere in their feedback.

4. Uncover Possible Areas Of Improvement In The Business

Use the interview to get honest feedback about the business and be frank about the fact that you value the leaver’s opinion. This can reveal what’s working or not in the organization.

It can also highlight hidden challenges and opportunities while generating valuable competitive intelligence.

5. Iterate Confidentiality

Reinforce the fact that any sensitive feedback the person gives before departing is completely confidential, and negative feedback will not be held against them. Assure them that you have a genuine interest in improving the business and they are contributing to that.

Go as far as scheduling a follow-up call or send a personalized email down the line to thank them for their honesty. Most importantly, relay how the person’s feedback has been used or will be used to improve the business.

6. Sign Them Up For Your Alumni Program

Many forward-thinking companies address this early on and sign up new hires to their alumni program as they enter, planning ahead for their departure.

Celebrate Leavers

For those that don’t or didn’t do it during the employee’s tenure, offboarding is the last chance to bring them on board.

It’s a door that departing employees want to be opened too. When they leave, they miss the domain knowledge and resources. They miss the perks and benefits. And they miss the volunteering and mentoring opportunities.

Your formal program can keep your network engaged by spotlighting their achievements. It’s a space where they can sign-up and receive invites to virtual or real-life workshops, mentorship opportunities, exclusive offers, L&D sessions, and health or financial planning services, depending on your perks.

Their profile can also be added to the alumni talent directory that can help them find new job opportunities when the timing is right.

7. Provide An Official Welcome To Your Alumni Program

As a final step to seal the deal and transform offboarding into future business opportunities, send your new members a genuine and official welcome to the program. Make them feel like part of a community that celebrates every member and use the program as a space to foster a sincere lifetime relationship.

Final Thoughts

Harvard Business Review authors Alison M. Dachner and Erin E. Makarius emphasize the importance of a holistic approach to offboarding to ensure departing employees become loyal alumni.

Managers should acknowledge leavers’ contributions, provide resources for a painless transition, and use exit interviews as a learning opportunity for all.

For more recommendations on how to start rethinking your approach to offboarding, take a look at our guide on The Role of Offboarding in your Employer Brand.

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