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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2024-05-08 13:22

Cathryn Barnard



Offboarding – the way businesses handle layoffs, resignations or end of temporary assignments – matters. Here's your guide to getting your approach right.


A primary commercial issue for business leaders in 2024 is talent risk. 


Whether trying to reach an optimal mix for successful hybrid working, address skills shortages, low productivity, workforce restructuring or rising employee activism, how businesses interact with their people to leverage skills and talents and deliver commercial outcomes remains a fundamental business challenge.

The shape of the labour market has changed dramatically since the emergence of COVID in 2020. While attitudes towards work have changed seismically since then, employers are struggling to upgrade HR and management practices to reflect these new dynamics. 

An ageing global population, and here in the UK, unexplained economic inactivity, add further complexity. 

How do organisations hire, engage and retain individuals with the right mix of skills and attitudes to create value and remain resilient into the next decade and beyond?

2024 research [1] by global staffing provider Manpower shows 75% of employers globally, regardless of company size, are struggling to recruit. In the UK, that number stands at 80%.

And yet in parallel, organisations are shedding staff. In the three months to February 2024, there were 110,00 layoffs in the UK. This compares with 116,00 in the previous month, according to global business intelligence platform Statista [2]. 

As the labour market shrinks, employers must find new ways to source and engage people. They must overhaul their recruitment processes, overcome outdated preconceptions and biases and consider a wider range of talent options.

Above all – they must place employer brand and reputation at the heart of all people strategising. As academics Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones famously wrote – why should anyone work here? [3],

Global societal and environmental challenges are escalating. Ongoing trust research by Edelman [4] shows that in the absence of political action, people increasingly expect their employers to step up and address the pressing injustices of our time. They want to see action on issues like resource depletion, planetary degradation and inequality. 

The way employers are perceived to address economic challenges is therefore critical. Under scrutiny like never before, organisations are expected to reflect the new societal dynamics of distributed power and hyper-transparency. Modern workers are looking to employers to integrate more humane, equitable ways of working that are decentralised and inclusive. 

As such, offboarding – the way businesses handle layoffs, resignations or end of temporary assignments – matters. 

Its looking inevitable that redundancies will remain a key feature of labour markets for the foreseeable future. 

Here are three reasons why its important to get your organisational offboarding approach right. 

[1] Reputation matters

In the all-digital age, anyone with an opinion can use social media to amplify their voice. Review platforms like Glassdoor allow workers to share their views on employers and these review sites have become a go-to resource for anyone considering their next career opportunity. 

In already squeezed labour markets, you cant afford for shabby offboarding to damage your employer brand and discourage people from applying for your vacancies. 

[2] Boomerang workers are a vital component of next generation talent ecosystems

In tight labour markets, boomerang workers (also known as returners) are an increasingly valuable asset. Boomerangers are individuals who have left an organisation to work elsewhere, only to return at a later date. Their pre-existing retained knowledge is invaluable as these people are more able to hit the ground running  they already know the inner workings of the business.

Inelegant offboarding will disincentivise individuals from returning  who wants to work somewhere they havent felt valued?

[3] It’s the right thing to do

The mental health crisis is burgeoning. While of course there are myriad causes, lack of recognition and feelings of disconnectedness play an elemental part. I heard recently of a decades-long employee who, on their final day at work, encountered a Post-it Note from their boss who was too busy to come and say thank-you and goodbye. 

How devastatingly unkind and disrespectful is that? There is NO EXCUSE at all for an employer to behave so disgracefully. 

Leaving a job is a key milestone in anyones life and there will always be elements of regret. The way organisations handle offboarding is a vital final step in the end-to-end colleague experience and it should always be undertaken generously and with decency. Regardless of circumstances, there is always the option to approach difficult situations with grace and to avoid harm. So why not take the higher ground?

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A core feature of the future of work is context-specific customisation. One-size-fits-all approaches to strategic workforce planning activities simply wont work. Every business must discover its own ways of doing things that meet the unique needs of all its stakeholders. 

Nonetheless, there are some uniform considerations that all organisations should bear in mind as they create more humane, empathic offboarding approaches. 

Here are four questions to ask to make sure offboarding has minimal negative consequences:


Question 1: What impact will this offboarding have on the individual whose contract of employment is coming to an end?

All humans want to feel necessary and useful. Its what drives us to collaborate, and it underpins our species sociality. 

Regardless of the time we have spent with an employer, its human nature that we want to feel our contribution mattered. That WE matter.

If we can do anything at all, we must humanise the offboarding experience. We must place ourselves in the shoes of those being offboarded and ask ourselves how we would like to be treated in similar circumstances. 

It costs so little to make sure that each contributor is thanked and recognised for their efforts  even if those efforts might not have been fully optimal. In a civilised society, as Ive already stated, its simply THE RIGHT THING TO DO.  

Research shows the impact of careless offboarding on employer brand reputation. In fast-paced, shrinking labour markets, no employer can afford to limit access to the full-spectrum of talent available. 

Action: craft an empathic offboarding experience to ensure the individual feels seen, recognised and valued


Question 2: What impact will this offboarding have on the individuals, teams and departments whose colleagues are departing?

Its often overlooked but the impact of redundancies has a huge psychological impact on those left behind. Survivor guilt and the associated perceived loss of job stability impacts colleague morale and undermines group performance. 

A core human driver is to feel safe. When financial security is threatened, its important to fill information gaps (i.e., why did these redundancies happen? Who will be next?) with knowledge that can allay fears. In the absence of fact, humans make up stories and are prone to catastrophising. This does little to sustain ongoing business activities.

Making space and time for those left behind to convene and discuss their uncertainties is crucial. It allows the group to process the experience and recalibrate. It doesnt matter if colleagues own futures hang in the balance. My experience is humans can cope with uncertainty WHEN its accompanied by open, accessible and honest discourse. Failing to consider the impact of offboarding on colleagues will cause lasting employer brand damage.

Action: host and facilitate discussion groups where surviving colleagues can process the loss of teammates and agree how best to recalibrate their team dynamics. 


Question 3: What impact will this offboarding have on the local community?

Every employer brings value to its local community. A percentage of every wage packet paid will be spent locally on food, drink, leisure activities and hobbies. 

In the past few years, more and more employers are getting to grips with their environmental and social responsibilities. As organisations come to terms with what business sustainability comprises, its critical not to overlook the value employment creates in a local community. 

The UN lists access to good work as one of its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [5]. While the nature of employment will almost inevitably shift away from full-time, permanent employment in the next decade, its vital employers keep the notion of access to good work at the front of their minds as they build out agile talent ecosystems capable of delivering just-in-time results for full-market responsiveness. 

This means thinking more comprehensively about the destabilising impact of job losses on the local community. What is lost in a community when colleagues no longer share a space to connect and purpose to fulfil? What is the psychological risk in a society already in the thick of a loneliness epidemic?

Moreover, how can an employer sustain its local brand reputation and maintain access to local talent when it must make redundancies and offboard some of its workforce?

Action: think about what youd like citizens in the local area to say about you as an employer. How can you maintain positive relations with the local community?


Question 4: What impact will this offboarding have on national labour market?

Employers in the global north have largely failed to address post-industrialisation. They have failed to provide reskilling for communities that have lost their manufacturing base. Indeed, the marginalisation of communities that have been left behind economically is shown to have fed the rise of populism and shock events such as Brexit. 

For too long, employers have underinvested in skills development. Since the late 1990s in the UK, its been easier to benefit from relaxed immigration requirements and source global talent on the open market, than it has been to invest in continuous workplace learning and upskilling.

Yet when we prioritise low-cost resources over investment in home-grown talent, we reduce long-term sustainability and gradually erode economic opportunity for future generations. In 2024, its clear the perceived lack of access to goodwork is contributing to Gen Zs very different attitudes towards work.

Ethically-minded employers have a responsibility to map and track the skills they will need in the future. Nationally, we need to look forensically at skills obsolescence and skills transferability. This is a key element of strategic workforce planning, and no employer can afford to wait for legislative measures to address this.

Rather than continuing to extractively source skills from the labour market, its time to think regeneratively. Its time to invest in skills so the country at large can benefit over time. This is crucial for the restoration of regional and national socio-economic stability. 

Action: kickstart regular skills auditing. In addition to reviewing the skills that currently exist within an organisation, look forward to identify the capabilities the business will need decades from now. Done forensically, skills auditing also involves looking backward to see how skills have evolved historically and check for patterns that provide insight into what could happen in the future. These activities are a vital part of business futureproofing. 



Saying goodbye to colleagues with grace, humility and civility is a powerful weapon in the ongoing war for talent. Its also humane and restorative.

Respectful and inclusive offboarding aligns closely with the principles of circular economics. Weve spent too many decades extracting what we need in business with little consideration of consequences. 

In the experience economy, there are significant negative consequences to poorly executed offboarding. As labour markets intensify and become ever more complex, can your business afford not to do all it can to maintain good relations with departing colleagues?

For more advice on creating a winning offboarding strategy with us, please get in touch today for a no-obligation chat.

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[3]        Goffee, R. & Jones, G. (2015). Why Should Anyone Work Here? What it Takes to Build an Authentic Organisation. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press



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