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The importance of handovers for exiting employees

Handovers are an essential process for any organisation. Here’s everything you need to know about handovers for exiting employees.
Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

When you resign from a job, the last thing you probably want to think about is handing over the reins to a new person. However, a few small steps can make a huge difference for the incoming employee, your teammates, and the business overall.

Many of us have probably experienced a job where we were thrown in the deep end from day one and left to fend for ourselves. Or, worse, a few days in there are a million questions you wish you’d had an opportunity to ask your predecessor. To put it mildly, it's not much fun. That’s where handovers come in handy.

Handovers are an essential process for any organisation. While a lot of focus is traditionally placed on onboarding, offboarding exiting employees and completing a formal handover process is just as vital.

When an employee leaves a position — regardless of the circumstances — they should always carry out a proper handover process to ensure a smooth transition. Having exiting employees hand over their workload will help the new hire hit the ground running and know exactly what’s expected of them on the job.

If you’re an employer or manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure incoming employees receive a detailed handover — whether they’re coming on board long-term or just covering the position for a maternity or long-service leave stint.

Pull quote with the text: 71% of organisations say they have no formal handover process in place

Unfortunately, many organisations neglect this process, with a study by Aberdeen Research finding that 71% of organisations say they have no formal handover process in place. We think it’s about time that changed, so, here’s everything you need to know about handovers for exiting employees. 

Why do you need to prepare a good handover?

A good handover will help new team members settle into their position more quickly and feel more comfortable and confident with the processes of the new job.

A detailed handover can also be very beneficial to other staff and the business overall, as you’ll find much less disruption to team workflows and productivity rates.

Additionally, when long-term team members leave an organisation, there’s always a risk of accrued knowledge and experience leaving with them. Handovers reduce that risk, by helping to transition knowledge between the exiting team member and the new hire.

Despite this, HR leaders dedicate 8x more time to creating, implementing, and administering onboarding programs than offboarding (or handover) programs. What’s more, only 29% of organisations say they have a formal program to transition employees out of a company. Yet, research shows that organisations with a formal handover process are 14% more likely to improve retention and 11% more likely to improve engagement. 

Obviously, the detail and length of a handover will vary depending on the complexity or seniority of a job, as well as how long the position is being covered for. However, a standardised handover strategy is essential for all high-impact teams.

Emily Das, an independent adviser at HR Consultants Ltd, recommends the incoming employee spends at least a couple of hours with the outgoing staff member. 

"It's absolutely critical that there is at least a basic handover, because in a small firm, jobs often cover more than the employee was originally recruited for," says Das.

For a long-term handover, there should always be both a face-to-face conversation and a written document.

Pull quote with the text: for a long-term handover, there should always be bother a face-to-face conversation and a written document

"If it's a key role, it might even be worthwhile bringing the new employee in early for work shadowing," suggests Das. This process would see both employees — old and new — working together for up to a week, so the new team member can carry out tasks under the guidance of the experienced employee and ask any questions that may arise. 

To see some of these tips in action, start your free trial with Go1 today to access a dedicated course on Successful handovers — How to make a smooth transition

What to include in your handover notes

"The handover should be structured, take at least half a day and include all the employee's day-to-day tasks," says Das. "There should also be a written note, with specific instructions about systems or projects, and useful contact numbers.”

You’ll want to make sure your handover notes include all the information the new person will need for a smooth transition.

Here are some things you might want to include:

  • a description of your daily tasks and processes
  • key day-to-day activities
  • access to all relevant spreadsheets and files
  • project deadlines and status updates
  • information about any regular/recurring meetings
  • a list of key contacts – customers, clients, stakeholders, managers
  • any ongoing issues affecting projects
  • details of all logins and passwords
  • housekeeping – location of keys, stationery, tools etc.

Think about the things you would need to know if you were starting the job afresh. You might even find that preparing your handover notes can be a nice little boost, as you look back at all the tasks and projects you’ve completed in the role!

What managers can do to help with the handover process

While it’s up to exiting employees to develop good handover notes, managers have a responsibility to make sure this process happens in the first place. 

As mentioned, it’s not uncommon for an exiting employee to feel checked out or unmotivated to create detailed handover notes. Therefore, managers should emphasise the importance of this process. Have exiting employees start preparing for a handover as soon as they hand in their resignation. Make it clear that this is a top priority before they leave.

You might want to collaborate with employees on their handover notes to cover specific things you’d like them to pass on before they go.

At the same time, don’t add to their existing workload by giving them too many new projects or deadlines. If you’ve made it clear that the exiting employee should focus on handover preparation, give them the time and space necessary to complete this task.

Exiting employees — do the right thing

If you’re an employee who is leaving a position, do your best to give a detailed handover to the new person. Depending on the circumstances of your departure, you may be feeling disengaged, checked out, burnt out, or just plain excited about moving on! But leaving your job on good terms and ensuring a smooth transition for the next person and the company will show your true professionalism. 

Not only that, but it is rarely a good idea to burn bridges in these scenarios. Not only might you rely on your former employer for a reference in the future, but, more importantly, research shows that 15% of employees ‘boomerang’ and return to work for a former employer. Plus, a massive 40% of employees say they would consider ‘boomeranging’ back to work for a former employer. 

Most importantly, preparing a thorough handover means being respectful of your teammates who are staying on. These teammates will carry the extra workload while the new employee settles in, so a smooth handover will be particularly beneficial for them. Finally, by taking the time to carry out a proper handover, you’ll be closing off this chapter of your career with a clear conscience and clear mind, ready to start the next exciting phase of your professional life.

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