Onboarding and offboarding: the Yin and Yang of employment recruitment

22 Jun 2021

For many years, a new employee would be shown their desk and the files they were required to work on, would be introduced to the other members of staff sitting around them, shown the location of the staff kitchen and toilets and later on that day, handed a congratulations card to sign and a money envelope for Florence in Accounts (known as Cash Flo) for passing her driving test.  Nowadays, employee induction, or onboarding as it is called, takes place over two or three days where the employee receives training on the company’s IT system and the various security systems from the IT Department, is taken through the Staff Handbook policies and procedures by HR, escorted around the office building by the Premises Manager with particular reference to fire exits, introduced by their Line Manager to the other members of the department and only then given the Cash Flo card and money envelope.
A recent article by Alison Dachner and Erin Makarius in the Harvard Business Review discusses whether companies should consider “offboarding”, the art of letting employees go, as much as they dwell on onboarding, primarily with those employees who have handed in their notice.
In many companies, a departing employee is given the benefit of a staff collection  which is presented with a signed “Sorry, you’re leaving card” to the employee at a gathering around their work station, followed after working hours by a drinks reception at a nearby wine bar.  A colleague once asked why we were allowing such practices when,  in effect, the employee is rejecting the company by stating that they no longer wish to work there and quite often, leaving the company with an expensive recruitment process and customer service dislocation.  The answer is that management wants to be seen in a favourable light so that remaining employees’ positive feelings towards the employer are reinforced. 
It is, however, often the case that after such jollity, the now ex employee receives a letter/email the next day, drafted by an employment lawyer, which threatens them with litigation if they divulge confidential information or breach any of the post termination restrictions relating to non solicitation, non dealing and non competing, if they have not returned in pristine condition all company property in their possession or control and have not altered their LinkedIn status.  That is what is called “mixed messages.”
The interest in offboarding arises because, as the Harvard article notes, most employees do not work at one company for their whole working life, staff turnover is therefore inevitable and indeed, according to one 2019 US survey, 15% of new hires come from ex employees or their referrals. Departing employees might come to realise that the grass is not always greener and that what they thought was a wonderful opportunity does not in reality compare well with their previous job.  There are companies who, as a matter of principle, refuse to re-engage former employees but a better approach would be to take such decision on a case by case basis.
Examples of outboarding given in the article include dedicated alumni websites and company newsletters to keep in touch with former employees.  Some companies such as Amazon and McDonalds offer “outskilling” designed to help employees to advance their careers inside or outside the company.  Other companies variously offer “outplacement” services to departing employees in the form of job coaching, career assessment, financial planning, individual brand development and/or counselling.
Clearly, an employee terminated for poor performance or misconduct and possibly redundancy, would not be well disposed towards any offboarding schemes and it would probably be wise for the employer not to offer the possibility. 
So are ex employees to be viewed as a potential threat to the business or a potential pool for re-hiring?  Whilst placing former staff into alumni organisations might sound like American razzmatazz unsuited to the UK,  it is often the case that informal alumni networks happen anyway, with many former colleagues keeping in touch, the bond between them being the former employer. 
No person should be blamed for being ambitious and wanting to improve themselves by career advancement which can often only be achieved through another company.  But if after a stint in their new company, they realise that further career advancement can better take place with their previous employer, some offboarding contact might have assisted in rekindling their loyalty for mutual benefit.

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