Some staff turnover is a normal part of any business. No employer looks forward to the day when a member of staff hands in their notice, but most will appreciate that employees come and go over time, and be prepared for when it happens.
Although employee offboarding — the largely administrative-focused process of preparing for an employee’s departure — is fairly well documented, something that’s discussed far less often is the importance of parting ways with staff on the best possible terms and maintaining positive relationships with past employees.
It’s this latter process that we’d like to talk about today, discussing the impact that employee aftercare can have — as well as how to get it right.
What is employee aftercare?
Where employee offboarding tends to focus more on the practical steps to take when an employee gives their notice — their final payslip; issuing their P45; the handover of any company uniform or equipment — employee aftercare is entirely people-focused.
Its implications also stretch far beyond your employee’s last day. Although it’s true that your interactions with your (soon-to-be-ex) employee might be few and far between once they’ve left, the primary objective of providing good employee aftercare is to ensure that any future relationship you have is a positive one.
“But surely,” you might be wondering, “if they’ve decided that they’re leaving, then wouldn’t my time and energy be better spent looking after the staff who are sticking around?”
We’re glad you asked.
Why employee aftercare matters
It’s easy to feel disappointed, or perhaps even inconvenienced, when an employee tells you they’re leaving. There you were, your business running like a well-oiled machine, and now you’ve got to write a job ad and fill the gaps in next month’s rota.
But there are three very important reasons why it pays to part ways with employees properly, regardless of how long they’ve been with you …
1. Sometimes staff come back
Firstly, there’s always the possibility that the employee will come to work for you again at some point in the future, either in a new role or the same one they left.
These so-called “boomerang employees” are more common in some sectors than others, and in some cases staff will return to their former employers more out of necessity than choice.
But with industries like hospitality currently experiencing a massive shortage of staff, employers would always be wise to leave the door open for any staff who might consider returning — and whether or not they choose you over a new employer may all come down to how you parted ways.
2. Exiting staff become ambassadors (or detractors)
Every employee who exits your business will go out into the world with a story to tell — without fear of reprisal or of losing their job.
What that story is will largely depend on their experience with you (reviews on sites like Glassdoor can be extremely telling), but by parting ways the right way, employees are more likely to go out into the world with more positive memories than negative, and to speak well of you and your business if asked — even if there had been some bumps along the road.
Good employee aftercare isn’t some kind of magic bullet that will right past wrongs, but it will help to smooth over the rougher edges, and can often be the difference between a former employee becoming an ambassador for your brand or a detractor.
3. Bad breakups can lead to further resignations
People talk. If a member of staff parts ways with your business on bad terms, or feels that they were more or less forgotten about the moment they handed in their notice, then others will quickly start to wonder if they, too, are disposable (and may even start looking for work elsewhere rather than meet a similar fate).
How employers offboard their staff sends a clear message to their wider team — that’s why employee aftercare goes beyond the usual administrative checklist and focuses heavily on establishing a positive future relationship with existing staff.
Then of course there’s the feeling of loss that some employees experience when their trusted allies leave the business, which in itself can lead to even more people handing in their notice.
In short, employee aftercare sets you and your soon-to-be-ex staff up for your future relationship. It influences the things that are said about your business, and can even have the potential to affect future recruitment at your business.
It’s care for your departing employee, sure, but it’s also self-care for the future of your business.
How to provide five-star employee aftercare
The way you deliver employee aftercare will vary depending on the size and nature of your business, as well as its internal culture.
But there are a number of things that employers can do to ensure that staff leave on the best possible terms, regardless of your industry:
1. Always conduct an exit interview
An employee handing in their notice might feel like a step backwards, but this is also your opportunity to identify problems within the business and find out what is and isn’t working at your business.
The feedback a departing employee can give you is worth its weight in gold (when else will one of your employees feel free enough to speak openly about the way you do business?) so be sure to sit them down to speak candidly about everything from why they’re leaving to their impressions of the business and what they think could be improved.
Exit interviews are also an opportunity for you to thank your employee for their time and to acknowledge their achievements during their time with you — something that can have an enormous impact on their future relationship with you (more on this later).
2. Try to be flexible on notice periods
Their contract might stipulate that employees have to give a minimum of a month’s notice, but do you actually need them to stick around that long?
Previously amicable working relationships between staff and employers can easily turn sour during notice periods, with employees itching to move on but feeling bound by red tape — red tape that could often be cut by their employer should they choose to.
Notice periods can of course be incredibly useful in that they give employers time to fill the gaps in their workforce when someone leaves. If you’re able to find a replacement sooner, however, or know that you could muddle by for a few weeks, then consider giving your employee the option of cutting their notice period short.
Just be sure that they’re the one making the final decision — the last thing you want is to unwittingly deprive someone of a month of income that they were actually relying on!
3. Provide a reference — without being asked
Even when they’ve worked for a company for a while, staff can feel awkward or embarrassed asking for a reference — it’s a bit like leaving your partner for someone else and then asking them to big you up to them.
Rather than waiting for an employee to ask for a reference, or perhaps just the inevitable phone call or email from their next employer, take the initiative to provide a written reference in advance and give it to your employee directly.
You may well hear from their future employer regardless (they’ll probably want to know that the reference they’ve received was, in fact, written by you), but being proactive about providing a reference will communicate to your outgoing employee that you wish them well — and position you as a professional and considerate employer.
4. Thank them
It might seem obvious, but when you’re busy dotting the Ts and crossing the Is in preparation for an employee’s departure, it’s easy to forget to thank them for the work they’ve done.
Regardless of whether they’ve been with you for six months or six years, it’s important to take a moment during the exit interview to acknowledge your employee’s achievements during their tenure — pointing to specific examples if possible — and to list their best professional qualities.
People always appreciate being seen, and ending the interview on a note of gratitude will also help to reassure your employee that anything they’ve said during the discussion will be treated with confidence.
5. Publicly celebrate their next move
Businesses are often seen giving their new hires shout-outs on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, but what about when staff move on?
A lot of employers tend to clam up when someone’s leaving — perhaps because they’re concerned that speaking too openly about an employee’s departure will give people the impression that all is not well behind the scenes.
But by publicly celebrating a departing member of staff, employers not only make their employee feel valued, but also show their customers, clients, and other employees the kind of employer they are: one that provides its staff with a positive employee experience not just until the end of their tenure but beyond it as “alumni”.
Parting ways with an employee can sometimes feel like an inconvenience for business owners. But the way you go about it can make all the difference.
In addition to taking care of all the usual HR admin and paperwork, it pays to part ways with an employee on the best possible terms, sending them out into the world as an ambassador for your brand rather than a detractor — as well as leaving the door open for the possibility of their return.