What It Now Means To Offboard An Employee

In the past two years, it has fundamentally changed what it means to offboard an employee. Companies operating under a single or a dozen offices suddenly expanded to hundreds of office locations with employees working from home. The instant transformation means that company data is now on multiple devices and in multiple locations.

Traditionally, when someone resigned, they would leave the laptop at their desk or bring a company-issued phone to an exit interview. This was a typical offboarding exercise before employees accessed company files in Cloud from their personal laptops or iPhones.

Company data is now everywhere, and the new meaning of offboarding an employee is to pick up the digital pieces before there’s a much larger mess.

What’s happening is that employees are leaving organizations and taking sensitive company data with them. This has been especially prevalent during The Great Resignation. What’s happening is that an employee takes a client contact list, a blueprint, or financial information, resigns, and goes to work for a competitor. The problem becomes evident when multiple employees leave for the same competitor. Revenue loss is the most significant impact of stolen or lost company data.

Unfortunately, data can also leave an organization without an employee knowing. For example, employees save work files on their personal computers and do not return them to the company when resigning, negatively impacting the organization.

Newly established WFH policies from HR and IT BYOD policies have slowed the loss of valuable company data. However, more must be done during an employee’s resignation to protect a company’s valuable digital assets.

Employee Resignation Process

Think about your organization’s interviewing, hiring, and onboarding process. From background checks and reference calls to employment verification and confidentiality agreements, much effort and due diligence go into preparing for an employee’s first day. If you invest time and energy into the due diligence process in bringing a new member onto your payroll, why wouldn’t you ensure a smooth and detailed offboarding? After an employee has resigned, they can potentially cause more financial and reputational damage to your company.

Companies can proactively protect themselves by aligning IT and HR with the employee resignation and offboarding process. For most organizations, simple steps can be implemented today when an employee departs the organization. Here are the activities for a company to perform when an employee submits their resignation.

Obtain company-issued devices

Have the employee who submitted their resignation return their company-issued devices immediately. These devices include laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets, USB, and external hard drives.

Don’t send any devices to IT

Typically when the IT department receives a device from a departed employee, the device is wiped so that it can be put back into circulation. If there are any questions, issues, or concerns with an employee returning company data, these devices will be critical to determine if and what is missing.

Don’t turn on any returned devices

Turning on a former employee’s device will alter the device history and its data. If there is a concern that an employee is stealing company data, keeping the device history intact is essential.

Exit interview questions

A formal opportunity to ask if all company data has been returned. Walking through all the devices and accounts that an employee may have used is helpful to ensure that no company data is walking out the front door.


If applicable to your organization, include language within your company’s release letter that specifically addresses the return of company data. Make sure the employee reads and signs these documents.

Friendly reminder

Provide documentation to the departing employee, including a copy of the confidentiality agreement they signed during the onboarding process.

In principle, all of these steps are very straightforward, but even Fortune 500 companies don’t have these measures in place to protect their company data.

Balancing The Transition And A Good Relationship

An employee’s resignation signals the end of a professional relationship with a company. Therefore, approaching the employee with positive intent and focusing on a long-term relationship is prudent. While the employee resignation process focuses on specific activities, the high-level approach makes for a positive transition. This is how some of the most successful organizations engage the offboarding process:

  • Recognize an employee’s achievements and contributions when they resign 
  • Respect the employee’s time and feedback with a well-thought-out exit interview
  • Manage a network of company alumni to keep former colleagues connected
  • Keep the door open for future opportunities to work together
  • Create (or use) a network to keep alumni connected

If an employee were driving a company car or was issued a company cellphone, these items would be returned upon resignation. It should be the same for all company data.