Vice President, Talent Acquisition, Engagement & Retention Research Leader
Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP
People Analytics & Engagement Research Leader
Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP
The alumni relationship extends the employee experience for a lifetime. Traditionally, when a worker leaves a company, the employer-employee relationship ends. But the business mindset about former employees is changing. These individuals should be treated as long-term assets. Many leading companies embrace the alumni model as a way to bolster not only the company’s brand but also its bottom line.
Organizations are recognizing that well-developed alumni networks can create goodwill ambassadors for the company—and not just its products and services. Alumni can recommend a former company to a potential job candidate or become boomerang candidates themselves. To create and maintain this connection, however, organizations need to recognize that employee experience extends to the alumni relationship. In Bersin’s continuing series on employee experience, we explore how alumni can support and positively impact their former companies and why companies should expand their definition of employee experience to include the alumni.
Gone but Not Forgotten
Leaving a job for a new opportunity can be one of the most exhilarating, yet daunting, decisions of a person’s career. People move on for a variety of reasons, which often include:
- Creating the next step in their careers
- Learning specific new skills or furthering their education
- Relocating for family or lifestyle
- Management reshuffling or a business changing course
After taking opportunities elsewhere, though, many former employees realize those proverbial new pastures aren’t necessarily greener. These individuals recognize that their time with their former employer may have been more rewarding than they had originally thought.
Attitudes about returning to former employers are shifting. In a 2015 survey of more than 1,800 HR professionals, managers, and employees, 15 percent of employees said they had returned to a former employer. In the same survey, 40 percent of employees said they would consider returning to their old company. Going a step further, 46 percent of Millennials surveyed said they would go back to a former employer.
Although many alumni are open to returning to a former employer, some companies don’t appear to welcome them back. In that same 2015 survey, almost one-half of HR professionals said their organizations had policies against taking back former workers. Still, 76 percent of respondents said their companies are more willing to hire alumni than they were in the past. Organizations that want to encourage former employees to consider returning should redevelop and strengthen how alumni continue to experience their company.
Although many alumni are open to returning to a former employer, some companies don’t appear to welcome them back.
Hidden Benefits of Nurturing the Alumni Experience
Former employees remain in the business world as they continue their careers, gaining skills, expertise, and knowledge, and growing their own professional networks. The value these alumni can bring to a continuing relationship with their former employers includes the following:
- Branding and public relations. When alumni feel good about their former employers, they can be effective and objective emissaries, especially when recommending the company’s products, services, or its status as an employer of choice.
- New business. Former employees often approach their previous company with prospects for doing business together.
- Industry insights. Alumni can discuss the latest business trends and even offer insights from a differing perspective with other alumni and former colleagues in, for example, a company-sponsored forum. Additionally, retirees can provide valuable services as coaches, teachers, and mentors to current employees.
- Alumni referrals. Coming from former employees who know the company and are familiar with potential candidates, alumni referrals can be better suited for the position and the company than external hires.
In the next section, we take a deeper look at one of the benefits of good alumni relationships: alumni referrals.
Hiring Alumni Candidates
When organizations hire a former employee, they’re getting someone with whom they have a history, someone they already know. Alumni hires are familiar with the organization’s culture and face a smaller learning curve. The previously mentioned 2015 survey revealed that 33 percent of HR professionals and 38 percent of managers said familiarity with organizational culture was the leading benefit in bringing back former employees.
Organizations should recognize that a large pool of alumni candidates can be a valuable and cost-effective source of talent—worthy of the resources necessary to cultivate it. Alumni candidates can:
- Help companies save time and money with faster hiring and onboarding
- Bring new skills and experience to their former company
- Streamline their reentry into the workplace
- Boost morale and strengthen loyalty through their return
Organizations should recognize that a large pool of alumni candidates can be a valuable and cost-effective source of talent.
Creating the “Colleagues for Life” Philosophy
People’s lives and careers are getting longer. Organizations that invest time and effort in creating a strong alumni experience demonstrate that the employer-employee relationship doesn’t end with the employee’s exit interview. Companies adopting a philosophy of “colleagues for life” should consider the following three points:
- The best experiences to ensure the alumni relationships continue to flourish in a way that benefits both parties
- How to translate the positive alumni experience into outcomes (e.g., make it easy for alumni to recommend their former organizations to potential candidates)
- Ways in which alumni employees may ultimately be more productive than new hires
A strong alumni experience demonstrates that the employer-employee relationship for that company doesn’t end with the employee’s exit interview.
These three points offer organizations a starting place to determine a strategy for reaching out to alumni employees. As part of that strategy, several activities exist that help with creating the experience with alumni employees:
- Online networks and forums to stay connected with other alumni
- Newsletters and other types of digital outreach to help alumni stay abreast of their former employer’s latest news
- Events that bring alumni face-to-face with former coworkers and other alumni
- Current accomplishments of alumni featured on a company portal
Companies worldwide are beginning to recognize the importance of maintaining good alumni relationships. Deloitte, for example, complements virtual networks with regular, in-person happy hours, lunch-n-learn sessions, and other opportunities to maintain active connections with its alumni.
Employee experience matters even when the individual is no longer an employee—as in the case of alumni. Alumni offer former employers many benefits, including new skills as rehires, goodwill as ambassadors for their former employer, potential for developing new business, and more.
These benefits, however, do not occur naturally. For organizations to take advantage of these benefits, they need to create engaging experiences in order to:
- Strategically develop their alumni network
- Keep alumni aware of what the company is doing
- Demonstrate to former employees that the company still cares about what they are doing throughout their careers
- Alumni workers can offer many benefits to their former employers—but only if those organizations offer their alumni a continuing and engaging employee experience.
- Companies can connect with former employees and engage them in meaningful experiences to grow the alumni network.
- Alumni value companies that are open to taking them back as they grow, so organizations should consider how (and whether) they welcome back former employees.
- The benefits of cultural familiarity come with hiring alumni employees.
- Employee experience is enhanced when companies create touchpoints, networks, and memorable moments over the course of a lifelong relationship with their workers.