Making the Most of Final Days: Bringing Value to Offboarding

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By Ian Gibson, CHRP

Are companies missing out on the final piece of the employment cycle puzzle? At the opposite end of the spectrum, onboarding is all the rage for good reason—greater numbers are poised or in the process of leaving the workforce than ever before.

In fact, British Columbians can expect to see almost one million job openings in the next seven years as baby boomers retire, according to a provincial government report.

Moreover, according to the B.C. 2022 Labour Market Outlook, a forecast of labour demand and supply trends carried out by KPMG, two-thirds of the projected 985,100 job openings created between now and 2022 will be due to retirement—with the remaining one-third due to economic growth, especially in skilled trades.

So why are we not doing more to improve offboarding processes and helping finesse final career transitions to the benefit of employers and retirees-to-be alike?

Onboarding ROI Already Apparent
Companies invest a lot of time and money into onboarding programs, and with good reason—to ensure new hires feel welcome, understand the culture of the organization, and gain a good understanding of expectations and processes as they begin their new employment journey. Most importantly, onboarding connects the new hire and establishes their value as a team member.

Over the course of that employment journey, the principles of onboarding remain in play through various means, whether through the traditional performance review model, 360 degree peer reviews, or the ‘latest and greatest’ in employee engagement/retention programs—all to ensure that the employee remains connected to the organization and its goals.

The Other End of the Telescope
While more can always be done, we spend a lot of time on recognition and appreciation of our employees while they are with us, and the value of that focus has become widely recognized. It is at the opposite end of the employment journey that a missed opportunity remains.

My proposition is that there is in fact a gap in our human resources management programs—offboarding. Consider the following scenario:

The time arrives when the employee sets a retirement date. Succession planning kicks in, albeit almost exclusively focused on the  company’s needs. Do we promote from within, restructure or commence a search for a new hire to replace the departing employee? The employee is given a time to meet with HR to discuss their pension/RRSP, benefit coverage options; then the company determines what messaging will go out to internal and external stakeholders (depending on the position the staff member holds) and a full-blown transition plan emerges. A party is planned, the cake is ordered, a gift is given…and then reality begins for the retiree. 

Too often employees retire with a feeling of “is that all there is?” It seems as though something was missed—and inarguably it was, and continues to be, in most offboarding scenarios.

Consider that this is a door through which we will all one day step, and the difference a helping hand in the process might make. Also consider that asking for such help is rarely easy. As The Beatles so eloquently put it:

When I was younger so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Bring Value to Offboarding Process
Here are a few initial thoughts around offboarding to stimulate discussion, and help generate a legacy vs. “already-left-the-building” effect:

  • Provide an option of “phased retirement” (where feasible) whereby the employee can gradually reduce their workweek from five days to four to three, and eventually—based on a mutually agreed upon timeline—full retirement. This option allows the employee to extend their earning period, adjust to ‘life after work’ gradually while allowing the employer to extend the relationship, and promote knowledge sharing in the transition period. This is far healthier than watching a lifetime of expertise simply walk out the door one final Friday at 4 PM never to be seen again.
  • Provide facilitation sessions (either in-house or contracting with a third party) involving the employee and significant other(s) to discuss and plan around what daily life will look like “post work” and what adjustments are required regarding relationship dynamics.For example, the employee’s spouse might already be retired/at home and has established their own week day “rhythms of life,” and that will change when their significant other no longer leaves for work five days a week. Defining that new seven days a week space ahead of time is valuable. It sounds nice to say “we’re going to be able to spend a lot more time together,” but in reality this is a major adjustment for all involved, yet it is usually left up to the individuals to ‘figure it out’ on their own.

    Furthermore, if the retiree is single, what will life look like without a work community to connect with 40 hours per week? What resources can you connect them with in the community?

An HR Assist for “Loss” of Retirement
As per the online words of Peter Capelli, professor of management at Wharton School of Business and the director of the school’s Center for Human Resources, ““A lot of people get their identity from work and they get their social interaction from work, so the idea of stopping means they’re going to lose both. [You need to] respect that it’s going to be a huge loss. If you’re getting close to that part of your life and you don’t know what you’re going to do, treat it as a worrying sign. Don’t assume it’s going to be OK and that it’s all going to work out. Figure this out now. Get busy.”

Just as that first day on the job was challenging for all of us, so too does the final one pose a multitude of questions and challenges—will inevitably dwell on the mind of the retiree-to-be long before the final day. While financial planning is a definite necessity for retiring well, I believe that life planning is the true key to a successful career and retirement alike—and here is where HR can make a real difference in closing the loop.

Make Offboarding a Process and Priority
As HR professionals, I would like us to challenge ourselves to give serious consideration to developing comprehensive offboarding processes that are given as much energy as our onboarding programs do—if for no other reason than to honour our employees with the ultimate parting gift, the opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of life after work.

Ian Gibson, M Ad Ed, CHRP is corporate human resources manager for The Gisborne Group.

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