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Why Companies Should Stay Connected With Former Employees, Pt. 2

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Wed Jun 06 2018

Why Companies Should Stay Connected With Former Employees, Pt. 2
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(This is the second part in a two-part post. The first installment of the series can be found here.)

Gone is the stigma once associated with ex-employees. These days, employers are paying more attention to these individuals—including as possible rehires. A 2015 survey conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. and WorkplaceTrends.com found that 76 percent of more than 1,800 HR professionals reported being more open to hiring former employees than they were in the past. In part one of this post, we discussed ways that companies keep their alumni engaged. Now we’ll discuss what companies can get out of that engagement.

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Why Companies Should Stay Connected With Former Employees, Pt. 2-Top_three-drivers_SHRM.PNG

In today’s labor landscape, finding the best person for the job is paramount and having a track record with the company can be a major asset. Undergirding the attraction to corporate alumni is basic economic reality.

“It’s a job candidate’s market for sure,” says Lisa Inserra, director of talent acquisition at global food services and facilities management company Sodexo. “Unemployment is low, and talent is highly competitive.”

Those conditions are forcing many employers to adjust their recruitment strategies by expanding their alumni outreach.

At Sodexo, nearly 9,000 management-level employees are in the company’s U.S. alumni network. The program’s strength lies not only in the company’s ability to maintain ties with former colleagues—who often refer other qualified candidates for jobs—but in convincing them to return. About 20 percent of the external hires Sodexo makes each year are former employees. “It is one of the largest candidate pools that we pull from with our external hiring,” Inserra says.

Deloitte launched its alumni program in 2000 and now has more than 200,000 people in its U.S. network—and an additional 100,000 in other countries. In the fiscal year that ended in May 2017, 2,800 boomerang employees returned to the organization, a 32 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, says Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader at the company and managing director of Deloitte University.

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Alumni can also be a rich source of passive candidates. “For instance, if you want to recruit women for a senior role at your company, you start by understanding who in your \[alumni\] program might be interested in coming back,” Pedde says.

Another advantage of comeback colleagues is that they understand the company and its culture. And depending on how recently they worked for the business, they may even know many of their co-workers.

That knowledge can significantly reduce onboarding time. “They come back, and they ramp up much quicker than another external candidate,” Inserra says. In addition, many return with improved skills and broader expertise. “In our industry, there are really only a small handful of big competitors,” Inserra notes. “One of the benefits we get out of returning employees is competitor intelligence.” Boomerang employees also tend to stay longer than other hires, she says, for two reasons: They know exactly what they’re signing up for when they take the job, and they’ve seen for themselves that the grass isn’t always greener in other pastures (or companies).

Good Alumni Relations

Want to start an alumni network at your organization? Here are a few tips:

  • Stay in touch. Keep former employees updated, but don’t overwhelm them with information.

  • Don’t be deterred by cost concerns. “Most programs have incremental budgets under $50,000 and yet still find creative, cost-effective ways to engage alumni and deliver value from the program,” according to a report by Conenza.

  • Communicate the program to current employees. Make sure workers learn about the alumni program during the onboarding process, not just when they leave.

  • Keep information current. Regularly update the locations, email addresses, and job information for your alums.

  • Survey alumni. Reach out at least once a year to find out what activities former workers are interested in, and give them opportunities to update their information.

  • Encourage alumni referrals. Consider rewarding former employees when they refer potential new hires to the organization.

  • Track metrics. Assess how many alumni attend events, use the alumni website and participate in online training.

Brand Ambassadors

Leaving a good impression on future ex-employees is another way that employers are leveraging alumni. That’s why progressive employers are smoothing the transition for departing employees by devoting more time and energy to the exit process.

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Organizations want to know why someone is leaving, where they are going and how to stay in touch. Paying attention to the lasting impression your business makes is part of what differentiates high-performing companies from average ones, Pedde says. “If you were leaving the firm, how would you want someone to treat you—maybe give you a gift, invite you to upcoming events, say thank you?”

Aside from being nice things to do, such gestures address the reality that departing staff have the potential to be both an organization’s biggest cheerleader and its harshest critic.

Brand advocacy—speaking well of the company’s culture, products, and services to businesses and prospective employees—is enhanced by having a robust alumni network, according to Conenza’s benchmarking report. Online recruiting site Glassdoor, which has millions of company reviews on its website, estimates that between one-third and one-half of them come from former employees, who tend to write more-negative evaluations than people who still work for an organization. Companies with formal alumni programs tend to receive more-favorable reviews, according to Audino.

That’s no surprise to Ali Spain, executive director of the Microsoft Alumni Network. “We know from experience that employees who feel appreciated as they exit are more likely to be fans of the brand, use the company’s products and services and recommend them to others, and perhaps return someday,” Spain says.

Financial services giant Citi regards each of its 18,000 former employees as potential brand ambassadors and informal advisors. “There is this silent majority, called alumni, who have great views they can share that would impact culture, that would impact the brand, that would impact employee engagement and talent strategy,” says Andrea Legnani, director of alumni relations at Citigroup in New York City.

By staying in touch, “we build long-term relationships that could lead to new business opportunities or recruiting referrals,” Legnani says. Having access to the network also benefits alumni, who may want to do business with and seek advice from other former employees, Spain says.

Rewards and Recognition

So how can you keep the goodwill flowing after people head for the (revolving) door? Happy hours, conferences, professional development opportunities, corporate discounts, and bonuses for successful job referrals are just a few ideas. Microsoft encourages its alumni to “Join for the discounts, stay for the connections.” Former staffers can shop at the company store in Redmond, Washington, and they receive discounts at Microsoft retail stores and from the company’s partners and alumni-owned businesses. They can also be listed in alumni business and nonprofit directories and take part in company-sponsored educational opportunities.

In February, for example, the company held a half-day business conference for alumni featuring panel discussions, speed mentoring, and networking. In March, members of the network were invited to a Seattle Mariners’ spring training game in Tempe, Arizona. They were also invited to an event during which company president Brad Smith interviewed anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Deloitte has developed a video series to highlight its former workers. “We . . . celebrate the impressive accomplishments of alumni by sharing their stories,” Soltis-Berner says. Ex-employees receive the company newsletter, can join a LinkedIn group for alumni, and are eligible to get cash awards for referring successful hires.

The HR team at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently launched an awards program to celebrate its alumni’s accomplishments. Moreover, alums are often asked to present at regional staff meetings, during which they give current employees an inside look at their career path and successes. And each year, BCG hosts a Worldwide Alumni Day to connect former employees in more than 70 cities around the world. “We try to constantly optimize our offerings by hosting events, surveying our alumni members, and scheduling regular one-on-one interviews,” says Kelley Geaney, BCG’s North America alumni marketing and strategy manager.

Employers are also gravitating toward activities with a social impact, such as volunteer opportunities that bring together current and former staffers. Microsoft alumni have donated nearly $1 million over the past decade to nonprofits led or supported by their colleagues.

By harnessing the collective power of their past and present workforces, many companies are finding there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.

Copyright 2018, SHRM. This article is reprinted from www.shrm.org with permission from SHRM. All rights reserved.

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