The Blissfully Guide to Employee Offboarding

How to Make the End of the Employee Lifecycle Seamless and Secure

Employee offboarding is a vital moment for any organization—but we don’t always get it right. In fact, often the process for offboarding an employee is ad hoc or neglected altogether. (Ever left a job and still had access to your company email months later? Oops…) In this eBook, we will explain why the offboarding process matters so much, how to streamline and improve it by taking a holistic employee lifecycle view, and the positive effects this can have for your organization, especially when it comes to compliance and security.

Why Employee Offboarding is Critical

Effectively offboarding employees is critical for any organization. It helps build a culture of security and compliance, and it protects you from liability.

People Matter: People are the lifeblood of your company. In fact, they are your company. And while departing employees may seem like less of a priority, the reality is that the employees who stay on board will notice how the offboarding process is handled. It will color their view of your organization. Additionally, some of them will inevitably be in charge of helping to offboard employees, so developing clear processes will make their jobs easier while emphasizing that you take security and compliance seriously. Many of us see offboarding as a technical process, but we must remember that people are at the center of it.

Productivity Matters: Taking a people-first approach has the added benefit of improving your organization’s productivity. A good offboarding process will simplify life for your HR, IT, and leadership teams, and will also protect the company from security breaches that can hurt your organization’s reputation and damage productivity. The faster you securely offboard a departing employee, the faster you can get back to business.

Security Matters: You can’t risk company or customer data leaks or security breaches, and one of the best ways to avoid this is to develop tightly controlled offboarding processes. A whopping one-third of all companies have already experienced an insider threat incident, according to a recent SANS report. A proper offboarding process dramatically decreases the odds that your company will be vulnerable to this type of attack. It’s easy for credential allocation and privileged access controls to slip through the cracks if there aren’t clear processes in place, especially at the moment of offboarding. Protect your organization’s security by getting this right.

Compliance & Regulations Matter: You may also need to meet relevant guidelines and regulations for your industry and organization type. For many SaaS-based organizations, SOC 2 must be adhered to at all times. This and many other compliance frameworks require tight controls around access, and specifically around offboarding, so building processes that not only protect your organization but ensure compliance through repeatable processes and demonstrable controls could keep you out of hot water.

Offboarding Today: Ad Hoc, Insecure, and Inefficient

The reality is that most offboarding is done on an ad hoc basis today, and may not even be assigned to a specific person or department. Worst of all, there’s often no real sense of urgency around offboarding, and this leads to security risks like the insider threats we discussed earlier.

Moreover, office managers can often inherit a lot of basic administrative duties, and in some cases this includes offboarding. It rarely makes sense for these busy employees to handle such sensitive and complex processes, however, since they require technical training and come with a wide variety of security implications. They are much better handled by a dedicated IT team, in the case of technology, and HR team in the case of people and paperwork.

The bottom line: The way offboarding is done in most workplaces today isn’t good enough—it isn’t secure enough, efficient enough, or people-focused enough. It’s time to do better.

A Better, More Secure Way Forward

It’s easy enough to point out what isn’t going well. But what would better offboarding processes look like?

For one, they would be automated. Many of the tasks related to offboarding are repeatable and rote, so there is no reason that a human being should be directly in charge of them. When they are an employee’s task, they may not always be at the top of the to do list and can easily slip by for days or weeks (or never get done). If you implement automation, you can keep the process, well, automatic!

They should also be streamlined. Ideally there would be a single tool you could rely on to handle the automation of offboarding (we’ll discuss this in more detail later). Beyond streamlining the technology, make sure that roles and responsibilities that can’t be automated are clearly defined and assigned to the appropriate team members from the beginning. Check in and ensure that action items are completed in a timely manner. This way, everyone understands what they are responsible for and nothing slips through the cracks.

The benefits of doing offboarding this way are manifold. It’s much more secure, and decreases risk for your entire organization by reducing the opportunities for insider threats and privileged misuse. If you are beholden to compliance mandates, this strategy will also allow you to meet many requirements without extra effort or new processes. You will need to produce audit trails for many types of compliance, and building out a largely automated and well-planned offboarding process provides you with a record of what has been done, by whom, and when.

Finally, this approach is, as you can probably tell, significantly more efficient. Done right, it enables increased productivity for team members who are involved in the offboarding process.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at what a better approach to offboarding looks like in practice.

Embracing the Employee Lifecycle

As you can probably tell, offboarding is a discrete, important process. But it is also part of a larger picture—the employee lifecycle—that is worth considering for the overall health of your organization. As you can see in the diagram above, this continuum spans from long before an employee’s first day until long after the employee departs.

The benefits in terms of employee productivity, organizational efficiency, and reduced risk are well worth the effort that goes into building a streamlined employee lifecycle. Understanding and planning for the entire lifecycle is an excellent way to improve retention, morale, and ROI on new hires. It also reduces the likelihood that you’ll find yourself at the center of a breach or PR scandal.

Having a broader picture of how offboarding fits into the employee lifecycle can help you define processes, plan ahead, and make strategic changes that benefit your entire organization over the long run. Now, let’s take a deeper look at a framework for streamlining and optimizing your offboarding process.

Offboarding

You may have already read our eBook about improving the onboarding process. The steps in your offboarding checklist will look much the same as onboarding, just in reverse. Of course, some categories do differ quite a bit, and you may in fact need to build separate processes for employees who resign vs. those who are terminated, since these situations may come with different types of risk and different timelines. An employee who gives two-week notice presents different challenges than one who is terminated, effective immediately.

Critical goals for successful offboarding: Handle it securely, efficiently, and in a compliant manner.

The OODA Loop Applied to Offboarding

Let’s take a look at a breakdown, again using the OODA loop.

Observe: Keep a Pulse on Your Organization

Observation should happen at all times during the employee lifecycle. In other words, keep a close eye on your organization. Often, if an employee is disengaged or unhappy at work, there will be outward signs. Look for opportunities to intervene and break a negative cycle. Retaining an employee is much more cost-effective than replacing one, so unless the employee proves to be a bad fit for the organization, it’s probably worth the effort to observe and intervene strategically whenever possible.

That said, there will be times when there is no option but to terminate an employee, whether for performance, culture fit, or budget reasons. And of course you will always have employees who decide to leave of their own accord, for a wide variety of reasons.

Observing your organization by keeping a finger on the pulse of your workforce is a good way to at least minimize surprises, but employee departures are certainly a part of running any business. Burying your head in the sand is a bad approach. Instead, you want to plan ahead and prepare for inevitable departures by building a strong offboarding process.

Orient: Create an Offboarding Plan

In the Orient phase of offboarding, much as with onboarding, you will build out a checklist, assign responsibilities, and define processes. This will help ensure that no key action items fall through the cracks, exposing your organization to risk when an employee departs.

Build a Checklist

Make a master list of offboarding steps needed for all employees, and then break down specifics for each department and each role. Carefully consider who has access to what, and when it makes sense to cut off that access. You don’t want to cripple an employee’s ability to do work their last two weeks, but you also don’t want a disgruntled departure to have the ability to exfiltrate data or steal customers from you.

Getting organized around offboarding is the best way to ensure a seamless process and reduce your overall risk. Interestingly, you’ll find far fewer offboarding checklists online than with onboarding. There’s a reason for this: Many organizations neglect this important moment and do things on an ad hoc basis, if at all. Now’s the time to make sure you don’t fall into the same negative pattern.

Here are some items to consider for your checklist.

  • Expectations
    • End date
    • Steps for transition of responsibilities
  • Facility
    • Parking sticker or access revocation
    • Physical keys or other access credentials revocation
  • Technology
    • Revoke possession of hardware
    • Revocation of access to software, documents, and wikis
    • Email and other communications forwarding set-up (to ensure that client or partner communications still reach someone at the organization)
  • HR and Legal
    • Benefits termination, transition, or roll-overs
      • COBRA or other extended benefits set-up
    • Tax documentation
    • Legal contracts (letter of resignation; severance agreement; non-compete, non-disclosure, and/or non-disparagement)
  • Culture and Connections
    • Communication of departure to the wider organization (and customers, partners, etc. as relevant)
    • Crisis communications where appropriate (especially in the event of a high-level departure or mass lay-off)
    • Transition of work responsibilities

While onboarding often includes steps that should be undertaken over a long period of time (e.g. preparations before the employee arrives and check-ins/evaluation throughout the first year), offboarding generally needs to happen in a speedy manner to ensure that there are no doors left ajar that could introduce risk to your organization.

Technology is often the most important and most challenging aspect of the offboarding process. Keep in mind that insider threats are incredibly common today. We have seen and experienced many, many examples of employees leaving an organization and still having access to the codebase, customer data, official company email address, and more. This is dangerous and exposes your organization to liability that can be costly from a reputational and financial standpoint.

So, as you put together your checklist, pay special attention to the technology side of things and ensure that you revoke all access across the board once an employee has departed.

Assign Responsibilities

Now, with your timeline of necessary steps in hand, just as with onboarding, it’s time to figure out who should be responsible for ensuring that each task is completed.

On the technology front, IT will likely be in charge of removing access and credentials for software and repossessing hardware. HR and/or finance should own payment of any severance or other financial obligations owed as of the employment end date; ceasing and/or transferring benefits; enrolling the former employee in COBRA; and ensuring any other paperwork is completed in a timely fashion. Communication about the departure to colleagues can be handled by a manager, or in some cases by the departing employee with leadership supervision. Making sure that building keys and parking passes are returned may make sense as a role for the office manager.

Smaller organizations without individual HR or IT roles, for example, may need to assign someone from the leadership team to ensure all of these steps are completed. In the case of offboarding, especially if the departure is not on amicable terms, it’s key that leadership is at a minimum aware of everything that is going able to verify that the key steps are completed to reduce risk to the organization.

Again, the key takeaway is that offboarding should never be conducted in an ad hoc manner. Especially when an employee departs unwillingly, but really in all cases, ad hoc offboarding introduces an intolerable amount of risk. Make sure that everyone on your team is clear about the steps required to offboard an employee and who is responsible for each one, and then verify that they are executed in a timely manner.

Define Processes and Tools

Processes and tools are even more important at the offboarding moment than when it comes to onboarding, because of the timeliness required and risk inherent. If you have to decide where to start with streamlining, pick offboarding. It needs to be done quickly, and mistakes are costly. While lost productivity during the onboarding process isn’t ideal, a data breach or PR disaster due to a poorly designed or ad hoc offboarding process is a much costlier mistake.

Once you have compiled your list of offboarding action items, you can implement a tool like Blissfully or BambooHR to ensure that each item is checked off consistently anytime an employee departs. This repeatability can help you manage the process and decrease the odds that something important falls through the cracks. When it comes to offboarding, this is an excellent way to decrease your risk exposure and improve your security.

Later in this eBook, we’ll go into detail about how you can better automate and streamline the offboarding process to dramatically reduce your risk and exposure to liability.

Decide: Know When the Time is Right

Once you know someone is departing, you’ll know it’s time to put this into action. If you are in the position of having to terminate or lay off an employee, then the decision is of course in your hands. If the employee decides to leave on their own, then you will be prepared to put your checklist into action when it’s time to offboard.

Act: Execute Your Offboarding Plan

The moment of action. Here is what your offboarding checklist may look like when it comes time to Act:

Refine: Evaluate and Reassess

Just as with onboarding, you should periodically evaluate and refine your offboarding processes. Of course, you probably can’t interview departed employees to see if they felt the offboarding process went well. But speak to those at the company who were involved in the process and evaluate whether things are going smoothly. Make changes where necessary.

Most importantly, conduct regular audits to ensure that no unnecessary access remains after employees depart. If you find evidence of this, and certainly if you detect a pattern of neglect, you need to re-evaluate how airtight your offboarding process is and make appropriate changes.

Putting it Together: A Holistic Employee Lifecycle

As you can see, we believe strongly in considering the entire employee lifecycle when you think through and prepare for offboarding of employees. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Happier employees
  • Stronger retention
  • Increased return on hiring investments
  • Higher productivity
  • Greater efficiency
  • Lower organizational risk
  • Less burden on management, IT, and HR teams

Now, the key to implementing a holistic employee lifecycle in practice is investing in tools that also take a lifecycle approach, and choosing tools that integrate well with one another. You want to carefully select technologies and processes that offer flexibility and enable automation. This will make life easier for your HR, IT, management, and other teams. The easier it is to oversee and manage the employee lifecycle, the more likely it is that your processes will be followed consistently.

Blissfully’s Employee Lifecycle Technology Recommendations

First, recognize that HR and IT both play very key roles in the offboarding process. The tools you select should be comfortable for both of these teams to use, and they should integrate well with the processes that are familiar and essential to those teams.

On the HR front, two tools we highly recommend are BambooHR and Gusto.

BambooHR is specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses, and it handles everything from applicant tracking to employee onboarding, and from vacation time to overall HR reporting. It’s an excellent, integrated system that your employees can interact with and use for self-service around many HR-related tasks. As a bonus, we also love that BambooHR includes built-in employee onboarding checklists.

Gusto is a similar HR software offering, covering payroll, benefits, and HR writ large. It is also designed for small businesses and provides companies with access to trained HR pros (helpful if you don’t have a large HR department), as well as benefits brokers who can help you select plans for your business. If you choose Gusto, you may not need a tool like BambooHR, but keep in mind that it does not offer employee offboarding checklists.

Next, on the broader IT front, Blissfully’s secure offboarding features offer a single button that allows you to automate deletion, backup, suspension, and reassignment of documents without a hassle or headache. Blissfully also offers integrated offboarding checklists that you can customize to your organization to ensure that you don’t forget anything.

Additionally, our centralized audit trail features ensure that every action is tracked, so that you can easily demonstrate that you are upholding compliance and/or regulatory mandates. You can even track who completed which task and when.

Finally, we highly recommend you invest in a data backup tool to archive the data of departing employees, in case you need to access it for reference or for security reasons. Backupify is a strong choice. It offers G Suite, Office365, Salesforce, and general data backup features. This will ensure that, when an employee departs, you still have access to valuable data and can demonstrate for compliance purposes that offboarding has been handled properly.

Why This Approach Works

The software-defined approach outlined above allows you to manage the employee lifecycle in a way that is people-centric. It both smoothes out the process for the employees themselves during offboarding and also streamlines work for HR and IT professionals who are charged with managing these processes.

These tools are also key to boosting productivity, in that they automate many of the routine and rote tasks that would otherwise consume valuable time for your new and departing employees, as well as HR and IT professionals. They also help get new team members up to speed fast, so they can quickly begin contributing to the overall success of the organization.

Importantly, these tools also support security, by ensuring that access to key data and information is carefully controlled and automatically provisioned and deprovisioned at the appropriate moments. When humans are left in charge of these complex and time-consuming processes, action items can fall between the cracks and security risks proliferate.

Finally, by using software-defined solutions to track the employee lifecycle, you will be better able to meet compliance mandates and regulations that apply to your business. The tools we mention above make it easy for you to generate reports and audit trails that demonstrate exactly how your organization is upholding best practices and legal requirements.

To sum it up, the employee lifecycle approach outlined in this eBook, when executed with technologies like the ones described above, will help make your organization a better place to work, while protecting your valuable assets and enabling your long-term success.