Offboarding: a make or break moment for your employer brand

Throughout the employee journey, there is a host of moments that matter, and one important moment (which is often overlooked) is an employee’s offboarding experience. The person leaving you today could be your biggest advocate, your next returning leader, or your most loyal customer. So, how do you get it right? 

For better or worse

What kind of relationship exists between your employer branding strategy and the employee experience in your organisation? Most would think about talent attraction and retention - how perception of your employer brand impacts whether or not someone wants to join your organisation and bring their best.

But the experience at the end of the employee journey can have just as much impact on a person’s opinion as their career with your organisation. A sour offboarding process will leave a bad taste in their mouth. And they’ll definitely tell their peers about it.

Whether the end of the employee journey is voluntary or involuntary - and whether it’s amicable or not - it remains a key moment that matters for your employer brand.

Building an effective employer brand doesn’t happen overnight. Taking a long-term view and constructing your narrative over time is essential. Despite this, employer branding often falls by the wayside, especially in times of rapid growth. This neglect is a key reason why organisations struggle to manage the exit of their employees effectively.

Could your organisation be creating a network of detractors through a poorly handled offboarding process? It's critical you manage this part of the employee lifecycle to turn exiting employees into positive advocates for your business.

The employee to enemy arc

We have to thank Twitter for giving us a perfect example of what not to do when offboarding employees. When the, um, “eccentric” Elon Musk purchased Twitter and took over as CEO in October 2022, the company employed around 7,500 people. Within a week of the takeover, the new leader had slashed about half of the workforce. Musk told staff in an internal meeting in late November that no further layoffs were planned. Since then, there have been several rounds of layoffs, as well as a slew of resignations. In April 2023, Twitter had around 1,500 staff - about 80% of their people have exited the company.

Back in November 2022, Musk also communicated to employees that they would need to be “extremely hardcore,” saying “this will mean working long hours at high intensity” and that “only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.” He gave them only a day to “click yes” to be part of the “new Twitter.” Anyone who did not reply would receive three months of severance. And in news that will shock no one, many chose to leave. How’s that for creating a great company culture?

You might think it couldn’t get any worse, but don’t underestimate Musk! He also publicly accused a senior leader of faking their disability. Haraldur Thorleifsson, a design manager, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. After being locked out of his computer (and receiving no confirmation of his employment status from Twitter’s HR department after nine days), Thorleifsson took to Twitter to ask Musk if he still had a job. In an unbelievable exchange of tweets, Musk questioned Thorleifsson’s work ethic, integrity, and disability status, before being proven wrong and offering Thorleiffson his job back.

How to turn your ex-employees into your biggest advocates

So, Musk and Twitter prove that no matter where you are on your journey of managing the employee offboarding experience, at least you’re not the worst. But if you want to really excel in this area, what steps can you take?

1. Communicate clearly and with respect.

Reading through the tweets from laid-off Twitter employees reveals a common theme: the disrespect people felt when they’d been logged out of their devices with no warning or communication. And this has only been compounded since, as the company has misled employees about further job cuts.

Whether you’re exiting one employee or multiple, make sure you treat them with respect. Ensure open and transparent communications channels are available, so employees can ask questions and express how they feel. And make sure you provide clear guidance on the next steps they need to take.

Take this message from Atlassian, for example. When they laid off 500 employees, they communicated it across the company first and then publicly, and clearly stated why they had made that decision. While some ex-employees still took to social media to share their disappointment, it was widely seen as the most respectful way the company could have handled such a difficult decision.

2. Conduct exit interviews.

Exit interviews, when done properly, are a goldmine of information. Not only are they an opportunity for your people to feel heard, but they’re also a way for you to determine how authentic your people think your employee value proposition (EVP) is. Do they feel the promise you made to them in your EVP was accurate? Of course, not everyone will be bought into your EVP, and that’s okay. But if early attrition is a recurring trend, you might need to think about how you’ve positioned your EVP in the talent market - and how you can improve to retain great talent in the future.

3. Celebrate your leavers and show appreciation for their contributions.

We all know first impressions count. But final impressions are what really last. We’re only as good as the last cup of coffee we served, so make sure you’re not leaving a bitter taste in anyone’s mouth.

When appropriate, consider organising a farewell event or providing an opportunity for teams to give well wishes.

We also recommended fostering positive relationships by staying connected through LinkedIn or similar professional networking channels. Today’s leaver could be tomorrow’s leader, especially if the employee is leaving to gain additional skills or experiences. And even if they don’t return, they could be a valuable source of referrals in the future.

Creating a positive offboarding experience for your people is critical to keeping them on your side and protecting your organisation. And it’s not just good business - it’s also the right thing to do.

Tahlia Robinson

About the Author

As Employer Branding Australia’s Commercial Marketing Storyteller, Tahlia Robinson communicates our fantastic, imperfect organisation’s story to the world. With a background in PR for non-profits, she specialises in connecting organisations with their audiences in positive, meaningful ways. Tahlia is keenly interested in accessibility, activism, and keeping up with current trends on social media (while constantly wondering if she’s too old to be on TikTok).

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