How does value-adding offboarding work?

Guest contribution by | 03.06.2024

The power of listening: Why people-centred offboarding turns a company’s value-adding on its head!

I have had six employers in my professional life. I resigned from four of them myself. After I had given my best there and demonstrably contributed to the company’s success. Well, my first job really wasn’t right for me. But I resigned because my boss forbade me to help my colleague when she had more to do than me. Those were different times! Collaboration and team spirit were not high on the agenda.

While the recruitment process was very sophisticated and applicants were interviewed in direct comparison, the leaving process was told in one word: Short! [1] I just had my last day and then I was gone. There was no question as to why I resigned. Nobody knew what was going on in our department. That our boss made us wait forever for the holiday we were entitled to. She made us sit on little stools in front of her desk while she handed out the tasks for the day. No, I wasn’t an unskilled labourer, but had passed my commercial training with flying colours and was full of drive. Not a trace of eye level.

After this humiliating experience in the truest sense of the word, I started out in HR. I learnt the business from the ground up. I carried out hundreds of recruiting processes, got people excited about the company and accompanied and supported them during their work. Later, I moved into employee and management development and came into contact with the topic of eye level. I was thrilled by the reactions of the people who were treated with respect and appreciation and brought these insights into the company. My superiors were just as enthusiastic and supported me in driving forward the necessary changes. With success. I felt at home and in exactly the right place.

What studies on the impact of employee participation have shown for years was also evident in our company. The new culture of co-determination also led to greater employee loyalty, better performance and lower staff turnover in our company. [2] This was of course great for our HR department, which was finally able to focus on employer branding, as the company’s image continued to improve.

As the saying goes: “Everything remains different”. With the change of Global CEO in the parent company, a different wind suddenly blew. Co-determination was first questioned and then abolished. I was shocked, angry, tried to argue and point out our successes. Our local management also did its best to convince the new management. Without success.

So I resigned. With a heavy heart. For the fourth time. And although my disciplinary superior knew the reasons, my line manager didn’t want to talk to me. There wasn’t even a traditional exit interview. I even received a video with individual farewell messages from my colleagues. I was moved to tears.

Did I get a “golden” return ticket to say goodbye? Unfortunately not.

Would I have been willing to return? Maybe yes. But only if there had really been a lasting change in the company.

This puts me in the group of “sceptics”, as the Königstein Group published in a study in 2022. [3] 1,016 working employees were surveyed and 43% of employees could imagine returning to their former employer. The main reasons for this would be a return to a familiar work routine, the idea of a jump in salary or because they miss their former colleagues. However, these are hypothetical statements, as only 5% of former employees actually return to their former employer. As many as 21% of former employees are waiting for their former employer to take the initiative. This opportunity is obviously not being utilised.

So-called “boomerang employees” make recruitment easier. Generations Y and Z in particular can imagine returning later after trying out other companies. [4] However, only if the departure was successful and appreciative and the working conditions remained at least as good.

The offboarding process is therefore becoming an increasingly important milestone in the employee experience. After all, how the end of the collaboration is organised is memorable. The first impression counts, but the last impression lasts forever! At the very least, the farewell should and must be honourable. After all, former employees are valuable ambassadors for the company. Depending on how they experienced the farewell, they will talk about it. One way or another! The employer review portal is full of reviews from former employees. Many of them are negative. The first employers are now fighting back against this, as anonymity protects the reviewers. But conversations with friends and acquaintances also have a big impact, as many employees come to the company on recommendation.

But it doesn’t have to come to that. Because when employers understand that structured and, above all, people-centred offboarding is a huge opportunity to improve the company’s added value, everyone involved benefits.

Successful team retrospectives: a story of trust, change and positive transformation

Just like me, Sophie has a passion. She is no ordinary employee. She has a Master’s degree in International Marketing and speaks fluent English, German, Spanish and French. She has worked for an international company in the Benelux and even in Mexico. She invested her knowledge and energy in the development and implementation of marketing strategies and thus contributed to the company’s success. At the same time, she was tired and exhausted from the high pressure to perform, which she had partly imposed on herself.

Sophie had an impressive career behind her when the company ran into difficulties. She felt the effects of the persistently poor order situation and had to face reality when she received her notice.

But what could have been the sad end to a long career became a new beginning thanks to her employer’s initiative. Instead of the usual technical offboarding, where she would have had to return her laptop and company car, the company opted for a moderated team retrospective. The aim was to obtain valuable feedback in order to improve working conditions within the company. And not just from her!

Led by an experienced facilitator, Sophie and three of her closest colleagues (who had been invited by Sophie) came together to talk openly and honestly about their experiences with the employer and reflect on working together. Everyone had the opportunity to give feedback and share their thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions.

During the one-hour team retrospective, Sophie received valuable feedback from her colleagues, which both encouraged and challenged her. For her part, Sophie gave her three teammates feedback on what she appreciates about them, what she misses and what she has learnt from them. The four were then asked to share their thoughts and concerns about their employer. Sophie and her three colleagues clearly stated what bothered them about the working conditions, the processes and the managers.

The information collected was recorded on flipchart paper and discussed and reflected on together at the end of the team retrospective. It was a moment of clarity and mutual understanding that laid the foundation for positive change in the company.

The company decided to collect the results of the subsequent team retrospectives over a period of six months. The moderator collected all the information and made it available to the company in anonymised form. In this way, the employees’ top 3 pain points were crystallised.

The HR department was given the task of developing specific measures and was supported in doing so to ensure that working conditions actually improved. Others in the organisation probably felt the same way as Sophie. Exhaustion was identified as one of the main problems. And because participative decision-making is so important to enable sustainable change, regular workshops were introduced in which employees were encouraged to actively participate in shaping their working environment.

Slowly but surely, the mood in the company improved. Employees felt heard and valued, and trust between employer and workforce grew from day to day. Positive changes became visible, both in the working atmosphere and in the employees’ willingness to perform.

Sophie was bid farewell with a speech from her line manager, a large bouquet of flowers and gifts from her department. She also received a golden return ticket from her employer, which entitles her to be considered for any future vacancies.

The company emerged from the crisis and the employees were proud to be part of an organisation that was willing to listen and learn. Word of the positive changes spread and the company was able to successfully drive its recruitment efforts, while employee retention increased and turnover decreased. Sophie, who continued to receive her employer’s newsletter, learnt about the positive changes. And when a marketing position became available, the HR manager called her and offered her an interview.

Sophie’s story is an inspiring example of how team retrospectives can help build trust, initiate change and achieve positive results. Through open communication and mutual understanding, organisations and their employees can overcome obstacles together and build a better future.

Classic vs. value-adding and appreciative offboarding

Even with inspiring stories like that of Sophie and her company, it is important to shed light on the factual background. A structured and person-centred offboarding process that not only ensures a smooth transition for the employee, but also provides space for feedback and reflection, can help to strengthen employee loyalty, improve the company’s image and reduce staff turnover.

The classic offboarding process usually consists of the following steps:

  1. Receiving the resignation / handing over the letter of resignation with space for an initial discussion about the reasons.
  2. Communicating the resignation to the team or manager / HR, depending on where the resignation was submitted.
  3. Ensuring the transfer of knowledge (the willingness of the departing employee to pass on their knowledge is strongly influenced by how they are treated during the farewell phase).
  4. Exit interview between HR and the departing employee (administrative matters and enquiry about the reasons for termination).
  5. Return of work equipment (laptop, company car, tools, etc.).
  6. Closure of all company access (e-mail account, access to the company building, access to software, etc.).
  7. Updating the organisation chart.
  8. Payment of the last salary and social benefits.
  9. Staying in touch.

The value-adding and appreciative offboarding process has a slightly different structure. It builds on classic offboarding, puts people’s feedback at the centre and ensures that the company can learn from every departure. It is based on three pillars:

Three pillars of value-adding offboarding
1. team retrospective

  • The team retrospective is multi-perspective, as the feedback is given by four people (the departing employee and three colleagues from their team), whereas the exit interview is one-dimensional and only reflects the perspective of the departing employee.
  • Duration: approx. 60 minutes.
  • Implementation: in a protected space by an experienced team coach/facilitator.
  • Objective: To learn from the past in order to better shape the future.

2. job feedback

  • Job feedback is an individual document that emphasises the employee’s strengths and is handed out at the end of the collaboration.
  • The content comes from the colleagues who took part in the team retrospective, among others, and is also signed by them (not by the manager).
  • The job feedback is up-to-date, credible, individualised and multi-perspective.

3. keep in touch

  • Network via social media, like, comment, etc.
  • Invite to company events
  • Leave it in the company chat (Whatsapp or similar)
  • Send out newsletters
  • Congratulate them on their birthday
  • Set up alumni communities
  • Welcome back ticket (interview guarantee for new vacancies)

There are many other aspects to consider when designing a value-adding and appreciative offboarding process. These include the role of managers, the importance of an open corporate culture and the integration of offboarding rituals into the employee’s entire life cycle. It is important that organisations carefully consider these aspects and take appropriate measures to create an environment in which employees feel valued and supported both during their employment and when they leave the company.


Sophie and I’s stories show the impact a well thought out offboarding process can have and the consequences of not having one in place. It’s time for companies to recognise the importance of appreciation, feedback and collaboration and take action to create a positive work environment where employees can thrive. By introducing structured and people-centred offboarding rituals, companies can not only give their employees a dignified farewell, but also lay the foundations for long-term success and growth.

Extra bonus

Here you will find 3 additional questions on appreciative offboarding answered by Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing (please click on Plus):

How important is the topic of experience in the offboarding team retrospective?

Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing: Retrospectives are carried out in agilely organised companies, particularly in software development. After a so-called sprint, a retrospective takes place every 14 days, which is moderated by the Scrum Master or Agile Coaches. The team has the task of reflecting on the collaboration during the last sprint (what went well, what went badly, what can remain the same) and finding solutions to problems. The aim is to solve problems as they arise, try out suggestions for improvement, increase productivity and learn.

If you understand the aim of the retrospective and are prepared to invest around 60 minutes, this method can be adapted by any team. Regardless of whether the company is organised in an agile or hierarchical way.

The method is quickly explained and implemented in the value-adding offboarding process. An experienced and appropriately trained team coach/facilitator is essential in order to generate value-adding insights through the right questions and solution-orientated action.

By the way: team retrospectives can be conducted both offline, i.e. live on site with Fliphart and Post-it notes, and online with a digital whiteboard.

Who else could provide input for the job feedback?

Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing: In principle, the departing employee proposes team colleagues for the team retrospective, i.e. the desired colleagues (max. three) are actively approached to see if they would like to give and accept feedback. As feedback is always voluntary, the invitation can also be declined. In this case, other colleagues are simply asked. It does not matter whether these colleagues have worked with the departing employee currently or in the past. If someone is unable to take part in the retrospective and would like to give feedback, they can do so bilaterally. The team retrospective thrives on the fact that everyone is together in a (virtual) room and confidentiality prevails. The Vegas rule also applies here in particular.

How important is mutual interest in exchange for structured offboarding?

Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing: Voluntariness is the top priority for feedback of any kind, including the team retrospective at the point of departure.

It is important that the company defines the team retrospective as part of the new offboarding process. However, trust cannot be imposed. That is why it is particularly important to make the WHY clear when introducing the team retrospective. Ideally, the company should be specific about what it wants to achieve and why. For example, is the company struggling with above-average staff turnover, is it finding it increasingly difficult to find urgently needed skilled labour and/or is it becoming increasingly clear that employee satisfaction is poor? It is essential to clearly identify these issues. Combined with the message that the company wants to learn in order to improve sustainably. The company explains that it starts where it expects the greatest honesty: at the point of departure. After all, employees never have less to lose than when they decide to leave. The company must have the unconditional will to take the results of the team retrospectives, i.e. the feedback from the teams, seriously and subsequently develop concrete suggestions for improvement together with the employees. ATTENTION: Only collect feedback if you are prepared to accept it and learn from it. Frustration is all the greater if the staff’s expectations that something will change for the better are not met.

If a departing employee is not interested in team feedback, this decision must be respected without any ifs or buts. Giving and receiving feedback is voluntary. If the employer insists on compliance with the process at this point, it jeopardises its credibility. However, it makes perfect sense to conduct the team retrospective without the departing employee. After all, he or she may only be the tip of the iceberg. He or she resigned or was dismissed. In both cases, there were good reasons. These affect not only the departing employee, but the entire team.

One example: If a sheet metal worker resigns because of his choleric production manager and simply leaves without saying a word, the remaining colleagues continue to work with him. They may be suffering just as much under him and just haven’t quit yet. Their work is certainly suffering, perhaps they are sabotaging him and damaging the company in the process.

If you are now wondering whether team retrospectives only exist in an ideal world, then I can answer in the negative. In agilely organised companies, regular retrospectives are standard practice. They are the prerequisite for iterative development. In other words, continuous improvement in small steps.

Notes (partly in German):

[1] According to a Kienbaum study from 2021, 48% of the companies surveyed do not have a clearly defined offboarding strategy.
[2] Gallup studies from recent years, Towers Watson from 2014, University of Iowa from 2014 and IBM from 2013.
[3] Arbeitgeber-Comeback nicht ausgeschlossen
[4] Betriebswirtschaft / Offboarding, Prof. Dr. Nicole Richter / Lisa Seegmüller

Arbeitszeugnisse erstellen in agilen Organisationen

Would you like to find out more about the topic of value-adding and appreciative offboarding? Then we recommend the book Arbeitszeugnisse erstellen in agilen Organisationen by Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing. And if you would like to talk to Mrs Hoffmann-Demsing, it is worth visiting her informative website.

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Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing
Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing

Natalia Hoffmann-Demsing is an HR mentor, independent business coach and loves people. Her mission is to increase employee satisfaction in companies and reduce staff turnover. Structured, step by step. She goes into depth, works out the pain points and supports companies on their individual path to an enthusiastic workforce.

She has worked for many years with companies in a wide range of sectors, such as industry, telecommunications and finance. She is a trained systemic business coach, licensed MBTI trainer, trainer (IHK), Agile Coaches and author of specialist books (Haufe and ManagerSeminare).

She sees herself as a link between the traditional and agile world of work and moves playfully between the two worlds. The focus of her work is always on people and the creation of parameters in which people can effectively contribute their strengths and work with intrinsic motivation.