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Off-boarding: Your Brand Depends on it. So Why Aren’t More Companies Making it a Priority?



By Lorey Zlotnick, Founder + Chief Brand Officer, Zequity Marketing

The departure phase, otherwise known as “off-boarding” of employee lifecycle needs immediate attention, improvement and accountability. Employees, once revered as the company’s most important asset, deserve dignity and attention to a mindful offboarding process that extends beyond the last paycheck. Loss of employment often leaves individuals emotionally disoriented, questioning their purpose and impact, and instantaneously losing a sense of community or professional belonging. They may also feel corporate betrayal, which is not good for the brand.


Off-boarding plans are essential for the employer, the employee, and ultimately, impacts how individuals embrace and perceive your brand. So why is the investment primarily focused on onboarding? Just like the customer journey, the employee lifecycle and “employer branding” needs to be disrupted and must become a collaborative function between brand marketing, human resources, and executive leadership.


Brands need to be built from the ground-up and from the inside-out to provide a 360-degree brand experience. The “ground-up” brand is your external brand and generally managed by a combination of marketing, communications, and creative executives to speak to your customers, clients, and shareholders. So why is it that the employee lifecycle is managed by human resources? Employer Branding starts with collaborative partnerships between marketing, human resources, people operations, and executive leadership to effectively reinforce the company values, achieve consistent narratives, and protect the reputation of the brand.

A delicate and critical dance. It requires a consistent and relentless governance for simultaneous internal and external brand communications and behaviors.


YOU BELONG HERE.

Belonging is powerful driver that can often be motivated by intense connections, and emotions, and bring out both positive and negative behaviors. The sense of “belonging”, according to Maslow, is a fundamental human need; a need to be a part of a personal or professional community, family, or purpose.


For decades, brands have created a sense of belonging by creating experiences for their consumers, members, fans, or followers; all who possess a deep emotional connection and like-minded passion for the product or service. By building deeper engagement through social platforms, creating opportunities for civic expression and immersive experiences, brands have the power to build loyal and powerful communities. As a result, brands also have the power to create the same kind of intentional belonging internally through building and executing authentic corporate cultures.

The power of belonging can create incredible brand value for an organization and is often overlooked and undervalued. Once an employee enters the fold, they become a part of your internal community and can become active and organic brand ambassadors by praising the product, recommending the service, or passionately recruiting colleagues with their positive perspective. Through every engagement and external post, they become the heart and collective voice, playing an essential role in creating a cohesive and inclusive culture, and building your “employer brand”. According to Glassdoor, an employee’s voice is three times more credible than the CEO’s when it comes to talking about working conditions in that company; that’s a lot of potential power that can favorably reinforce the internal and external brand reputation.


YOUR INTERNAL BRANDING MAY BE IMPACTING YOUR BOTTOM LINE.

By basic definition, brands are highly differentiated products or service that have a powerful emotional connection with its customers. The same emotional connection is true for your employees. Positive emotional connections created between the employee and the corporate culture can ultimately result in passionate, immersive and inclusive environments, develop a sense of deep loyalty and trust, and fulfill a sense of belonging.


Every aspect of the employee lifecycle, from recruiting, orientation, retention, and transition is employer branding and should strike consistent values and attributes with the external consumer brand.


Official onboarding is no exception. Onboarding is an essential investment, and depending on the role, it is one that can cost (on average) an organization upwards of $4,000+ and much more if hiring a firm to recruit a senior executive. Statistics show organizations with a strong onboarding process see improved productivity by nearly 78%, and increase in retention, and positively impacting the bottom line. It should come as no surprise that onboarding is an essential part of the process to effectively integrate a new hire into the company. But the process is more than just gaining access, filling out necessary benefit paperwork or learning about policies and procedures. The onboarding experience sets the tone for the new hire and is the first frontline experience interacting with the internal brand.


So why isn’t the same focus and investment given to off-boarding?


Supporting employees through the entire employment lifecycle, including off-boarding, is one of the most critical components that requires an ongoing comprehensive strategy, and is often overlooked. Issues beyond the immediate legal paperwork and financials are often left to the employee to manage alone, including all aspects of career transition, mental health issues arising from unemployment, and the ongoing relationship between the employee and brand itself.


EMPLOYEES EXPECT MORE.

There was a time when companies were driven almost exclusively by the main driver focused on maximizing profits. The bottom-line approach is NOT enough anymore.


Leaders are listening and proactively responding to what is important to the employees, their personal needs, and social expectations. They are providing more time and focus, exercising flexibility, and addressing the retention aspect of the employee lifecycle. And it goes beyond the basic benefits and perks offered by organizations. Aligning personal values with corporate value systems are becoming commonplace when considering employment.


Exercising at a higher level of accountability have seen the expansion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) divisions to include considerable focus and scrutiny on environmental and sustainability practices, professional ethics, community philanthropy and social impact, and to the individual employee themselves. Corporate responsibility isn’t just about how the brand behaves or how it gives back to external communities; it is now looking at navigating complex social issues to address the diversity of individual employee needs.


If done correctly, building an authentic brand value system rooted within a solid DE + I practice can create a sense of belonging and can be an intense emotional byproduct of a corporate culture. Again, requiring a strategic and delicate 360-degree collaborative approach.


A recent article published by The Harvard Business Review stated “Savvy companies need to embed DEI into every stage of the employee lifecycle — including separations. A company that has invested time, money, and effort into building an inclusive culture does not want to have its employer brand story compromised.”


INVOLUNTARY AND VOLUNTARY DEPARTURES HAPPEN.

Layoffs, downsizing, and resignations of key contributors occur, and employees leave the organization, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is churn; this is a part of business.


There is also a chance they may return as the trend of boomerang is increasing. The opportunity to continue positive brand association, turning former employees from brand ambassadors into passionate brand advocates will largely be driven by their experience on the way out. The one you provide.


Off-boarding plays a critical and essential part of the employee lifecycle and needs to be consistent with the company brand values and executed with empathy and respect. This is not a transactional process. Done the wrong way, it can cause a permanent and negative ripple effect to your brand and the bottom line.


According to OfficeVibe, 64% of applicants would share negative experiences with friends and family…and 27% would actively discourage others from applying. Social media can play a big role in recruiting with recent reports indicating 70% of jobseekers check Glassdoor reviews for feedback. Not only can a negative offboarding process impact the cost to recruit quality new hires, but it may also undermine the credibility of the brand, raise doubt around inclusivity, leadership, and an authentic corporate culture.


AS ORGANIZATIONS, WE CAN DO BETTER.

Creatives often fall back on the notion that you are as good as your last campaign; think of off-boarding as the last corporate campaign. Undoubtedly, off-boarding will vary depending on budget and resources, however, they should all begin with a comprehensive strategic brand and communications framework addressing all departure scenarios, both voluntary and involuntary; as well as also address all the basic and legal human resource paperwork required by law.


HOW DO YOU WANT THE BRAND TO BE REMEMBERED?

Off-boarding best practices are the last stage in the employee lifecycle and one of the final opportunities to reinforce the brand values, show off your brand employer brand to help with recruitment, provide a positive 360 employment experience, and create an opportunity for ongoing belonging with an Alumni program. How do you want the brand to be remembered?

It is a blurry and emotional process for the employee requiring a responsible and focused plan led with empathy. A simple or expansive program to reinforce employee value and sense of accomplishment, provides access to mental support, has a dedicated internal point person to respectfully address questions in a timely manner (think customer service), offers professional placement resources, and conducts a formal induction into an official alumni program with access to planned events, resources, and private social media group forums.


YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO WAIT.

Now is the time to put the proper investment into a dedicated brand-centric team to support off-boarding with the same focus and vigor as onboarding. Your brand depends on it.


Lorey Zlotnick is the Founder and Chief Brand officer of Zequity Marketing, providing strategic and creative brand building guidance, training and brand education to executives and agencies responsible for driving internal or external brand narratives and initiatives.



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