Exits happen. Given the headwinds arising from COVID-19 and its impact on the market, the unfortunate truth is that exits are inevitable. While it is counterintuitive to invest in an employee who is leaving your organization, there are tangible business benefits in the context of today’s climate. The businesses that survive COVID-19 are the ones that can be both reactionary and strategic. Thinking for the long-term, organizations have an opportunity to create a thoughtful and caring exit experience for employees. When handled well, it can set you up for a strong talent pipeline – something that every organization will need as we transition back to the new normal.
To set expectations, this is not a blog about the legal HR guidelines for separations. In this blog, we’ll instead provide instruction and tips on how to, in an undesirable situation, create the best possible exit experience. More importantly, we’ll explore why the exit experience is a worthwhile investment for your future business.
Most leaders assume that exiting employees will inherently be disconnected from their organizations. This is fundamentally not true. Instead, today’s exiting employees are tomorrow’s brand ambassadors. They can unlock savings for establishing your future workforce when you are ready to scale up again. Creating an intentional exit experience will save you future money in three ways:
- The boomerang effect. Returning employees, known as “boomerang employees,” can help you hit the ground running faster when you can scale back to normal size and/or need to clear backlog. Employees who are treated well upon exit are more likely to come back, saving organizations on future recruiting and training costs.
- Referrals count. In deciding where to apply for jobs, 84 percent of job seekers take the reputation of an employer into account. Employees who feel cared for on exit are more likely to become sources of quality referrals—again saving you sourcing and recruiting costs. Referrals tend to be the best qualified candidates, because they are aware of what it takes to work for your company. Ex-employees are best equipped to advise on who would “make it” or not—this improves first year employee retention, which also saves you sourcing and recruiting money.
- The importance of employer brand. Exiting employees are likely to write a Glassdoor review about you, which impacts your employer brand. Strong reviews will accelerate sourcing and recruiting efforts; on the flip side, negative reviews will make recruiting an uphill battle. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Negative reputation costs companies at least 10 percent more per hire.”
A differentiated exit experience is not merely a “nice to have” or soft offering—compassionate exit experiences strengthen employer brand and accelerate your access to qualified talent. These have long been key business assets and will only become more important post-pandemic. In fact, getting optimal talent in place following-COVID-19 will make or break your recovery.
So now you know the value of a great experience—let’s get into what a great exit experience looks like. First, you should customize the exit experience to fit your organization and your culture. Here are some working design principles to consider when creating your exit experience strategy:
- Design principle 1: Demonstrate post-separation care. Exiting employees are often treated like an HR checklist item and the experience is often cold and transactional. Anything that you can provide to demonstrate care and support for the exiting employee’s next steps will go a long way for how they remember you, and therefore what they say about you on social media, Glassdoor, and more.
- Design principle 2: Be organized and intentional. Have an exit package (not a bunch of separate one-off forms) that has every possible exit topic addressed—FAQs, information on health, 401K, and life insurance benefits, unemployment information (if applicable), key HR contacts for follow up if needed. Bonus points if you have a digital alumni portal where this information can be accessed and questions can be submitted. (Hint: the digital format also allows you to passively collect HR analytics!)
- Design principle 3. Remember, it’s personal. Regardless of the circumstances, being exited always feels personal and—in the COVID-19 context—is very scary because people are unsure of how they will secure their basic needs for themselves and their families. The more you can show empathy and acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, the better (while staying within HR- appropriate language of course).
Long before COVID-19, treating employees well has been a fundamental tenet of a strong employer brand and the ability to attract top talent. Indeed, well over three-quarters of those seeking jobs take company reputation into account when evaluating prospective employers. However, within the challenging and sensitive circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the companies poised to succeed are those that transcend reaction and survival mode. Instead, they are actively managing the crisis by doing good by their workforce. You can’t afford not to.