Article: No burning bridges: Why employers should maintain ties with former staff

Employer Branding & Communication

No burning bridges: Why employers should maintain ties with former staff

Why should companies care about their ex-workers? A groundbreaking study sheds light on how alumni-organisation relationships can revolutionise business branding and networking.
No burning bridges: Why employers should maintain ties with former staff

Companies that keep in touch with their former employees can help boost their branding and reputation since it shows that they still support their alumni even after they have moved on, according to new research.

In a study featured in the journal Academy of Management Review, researchers explored the potential benefits of employers keeping a positive relationship with ex-workers. Much has been said about the advantages of co-workers staying in touch with former colleagues, but what exactly would companies get if they do the same with their alumni?

Staying in contact with former employees

For the research team, there are two main ways businesses can benefit from having alumni-organisation relationships (AORs). The first one is that ex-employees can return as contractors for their former companies. They can also serve as direct contacts to other companies that might want to do business with their former employer.

Companies that maintain positive AORs can get a boost to their branding and reputation as well. It shows that employers are still invested in the progress of their former employees even after they have left their organisation.

Dr. Rebecca Paluch, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business and one of the authors of the study, described how such relationships between employers and ex-workers are not as rare as people might think.

“Traditionally, AORs were most common in professional service firms,” Dr. Paluch said.

“But as it becomes more common for workers to job hop over the course of their career, we are seeing more organisations investing in relationships with alumni.”

Maintaining AORs can help generate new business for organisations. Law firms, for example, try to keep in contact with junior lawyers even when they move on to other companies. If the original employer needs to hire outside counsel, they can leverage the positive relationship to get the services of their former employees' new organisation.

Meanwhile, other companies enjoy the boost to their brand image by keeping AORs with ex-workers.

“They call all of their stores ‘third communities’ because they want to make people feel welcome and like they’re part of something when they visit the stores,” Dr. Paluch explained.

“AORs are in line with the overall branding of building community and keeping people connected.”

Programs that support alumni-organisation relationships also offer a variety of benefits to alumni, including newsletters and updates about the company and its network, career resources, and job boards. They also get to enjoy training and development opportunities and in-person networking.

How to nurture alumni-organisation relationships

For Dr. Paluch and her colleagues, there is no playbook for companies to start and develop AORs with former employees. While there are established norms when employees are still part of the organisation, there are no such standard practices to manage relationships once these workers move on to other companies.

One way for employers to support alumni-organisation relationships is by setting up broad communication with former employees. They can also strategically target alumni who they believe can bring back the most value to their organisation.

Companies can also encourage their current staff to stay in touch with former colleagues. This allows them to bring back knowledge and serve as valuable resources for their former employers.

Meanwhile, employers need to make sure that they support their workers when they exit the organisation. Dr. Paluch said one of the biggest mistakes of companies is that they want to keep in contact with former employees even though they did not support them on their way out.

“If employees are having terrible exit experiences, then it shouldn’t be surprising if they don't want to stay in touch after they leave,” Dr. Paluch said.

It is easier to cultivate relationships between employers and alumni if the exit appears to be palatable for both sides. Since companies understand that today’s workers are highly mobile, they see more sense in keeping a positive relationship with ex-employees.

“We’ve been seeing tenure decline over the past few decades, and most employees move on to a new company after four or five years,” Dr. Paluch said.

“Strategically, organisations might as well consider, ‘If we can't keep them in the organisation, how can we at least keep them connected to the organisation?’”

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Topics: Employer Branding & Communication

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