How to meet new challenges of employee exits

Now more than ever, HR leaders need to handle separations with respect and empathy

  • With layoffs and furloughs surging, HR leaders need to ensure the exit experience is respectful and fair
  • Each type of departure is unique and must be approached appropriately
  • Companies that keep departing employees engaged will be better prepared when it’s time to rehire

Employee exits are complicated during the best of times. During a crisis like our current pandemic, it’s more crucial than ever to get them right.

Let’s start by acknowledging that HR leaders—and the world in general—are experiencing a shock to the system. The sudden economic impacts of COVID-19 have forced employee service professionals to immediately shift gears from the booming employment market of the past to the gut-wrenching layoffs and furloughs of today. This unprecedented and unanticipated workplace upheaval has left many in our industry struggling to adapt.

The sad fact is that many of us are dealing with the unexpected need to part with our employees. We owe it to them to create a departure experience that is not only helpful, but also leaves them feeling respected and treated fairly. This begins by dispelling the common misconception that offboarding is simply onboarding in reverse.

Right way, wrong way

Full disclosure: I dislike the word “offboarding.” It’s a catch-all phrase that feeds into the idea that an employee departure is basically the mirror image of a new hire process. In fact, departures are far more complex and nuanced.

When people join an organization, they are usually excited and eager to complete the new hire process. Compare that to the myriad emotions that accompany a departure, and you have a very different scenario—one that must be handled with emotional intelligence and process clarity in order to preserve positive employee sentiment.

Of course, not all departures are equal. Each type is unique and must be approached appropriately. Supporting an employee through retirement requires a much different set of resources and communications than supporting an employee through a layoff or a move to a competitor. Regardless of which type of departure you’re dealing with—voluntary, involuntary, layoff, furlough—there is a right way to do it.

Continual, clear communication

The sudden need to part with employees in large numbers with little notice requires a focus on clear, consistent, trustworthy communication. The employer-employee relationship must maintain its integrity. Nowadays these layoff conversations and departure steps are often happening remotely, which only adds to the need for a rock-solid communication plan.

Begin by coordinating your communication across HR, IT, legal, and workplace services so that you’re ready to provide people with as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. A singular department cannot provide a comprehensive plan. “Can I retrieve my personal belongings from my workspace or will they be shipped to me?” is just one example of a meaningful question that requires a multi- department response.

Maintain the relationship

Employees will have questions beyond their day of departure no matter how they’ve left the company. One common challenge is finding a way to extend communication and support once employees no longer have access to internal systems. Find a digital solution that is accessible outside the company firewall where former employees can get answers to their questions, learn about available resources, and receive guidance about next steps.

Keep in mind that employers who keep employees engaged will have a much easier time when it comes to ramping their workforce back up. By treating people with respect, communicating with transparency, and demonstrating an obvious concern for their well-being, you can increase the chances that they will want to come back.

Help employees connect

If you’re conducting layoffs at your company, you might look into a new program that connects laid off workers to companies in the industries where demand for employees has suddenly overwhelmed capacity, such as grocery stories and healthcare professionals.

People+Work Connect is a new employer-to-employer initiative that brings together companies laying off or furloughing people with those companies in urgent need of workers. Designed by CHROs including ServiceNow’s chief talent officer Pat Wadors, it’s already helping people get back to work.

Through People+Work Connect, companies can rapidly share the experience and skills of laid-off or furloughed employees with other companies seeking workers. It’s a global, cross-industry program created to deploy people with similar skills in one industry into industries where jobs are being created.

True test of leadership

This is a volatile time for all employers and a stressful time for all employees. If true leadership and corporate character are tested in adversity, this is an employer’s big test.

It’s easy to say that an organization puts employees first when profits are strong and pipelines are healthy. But we are in a historic moment in time. Employees and their families will remember their COVID-19 quarantines forever.

They will also remember their employer’s actions during this time. Decisions made by HR leaders today will have a tremendous impact on the well-being of employees and their families—and will permanently color employee perceptions of their company.

When the pandemic passes and large-scale hiring starts up again, the companies that treated their employees with respect will be the ones more likely to recover and, ultimately, thrive.

This post originally appeared on Forbes BrandVoice.