HR lavishes plenty of effort on onboarding. But a new report suggests that lack of attention to the offboarding process may be hurting organizations' brand image and the time it takes to fill open jobs.
With 80 percent of people expressing willingness to return to a past employer, former employees may be an untapped goldmine. It turns out that 20 percent of open jobs are currently filled by alumni, on average. Alumni hires fill jobs 50 percent faster with a 73 percent reduction in time to productivity, according to the study.
"A well-managed offboarding process can turn employees into loyal alumni who become customers, suppliers, boomerang employees, mentors to current workers and ambassadors for the firm," said Erin Makarius, associate professor of management at the University of Akron in Ohio and one of the authors of the report.
Makarius advises companies to prepare for departures well in advance, recognize people's contributions when they leave, conduct thoughtful exit interviews, provide tailored support for the transition and create formal programs to keep alumni connected to the organization. Such programs should be underpinned by technology.
At a basic level, some organizations compile spreadsheets or populate internal databases with the personal e-mail addresses of departing personnel. These are managed, tracked and updated to varying degrees. Mailing list software like Mailchimp is sometimes used to deliver newsletters or other content. A level up from that are LinkedIn and Facebook groups. This helps gather alumni in a central place, but there can be a lack of control over the messaging. Applicant tracking systems and core HR systems may also contain some offboarding or alumni features.
And then there are offboarding systems and alumni platforms such as EnterpriseAlumni and PowerHouse that handle the exit and enable the company to own, manage and engage with this community. One benefit is ownership of the data and its analysis, as well as the ability to provide targeted content, communications and engagement.
"There is real value in maintaining a connection to former employees, whether for recruiting, referrals, sales, business development or as brand advocates," said James Sinclair, CEO of EnterpriseAlumni. "With employers investing so much in the success of their employees, why stop at the moment of leaving?"
Boomerangs Do Come Back
Financial services giant Citi uses EnterpriseAlumni as part of its ongoing engagement with former employees.
"We're talking about older generations that joined the company out of college and spent their career with us, to younger generations spending 2.8 years on average and moving on," said Andrea Legnani, global head of alumni relations at Citi. "But, as much as [younger workers] are more willing to leave, they're also more willing to return."
Employee turnover is on the rise. In the U.S., the average job tenure is about 4.1 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Citi employees stay less than three years on average.
Legnani said about 10 percent of the Citi employee base are boomerangs—people that left and came back. That's 20,000 boomerangs. Alumni platforms, then, help organizations shift from "out of sight, out of mind" to "let's stay in touch as we might have an opportunity for you in the future."
"The offboarding process is becoming a natural transition into a different stage of the person's relationship with the company, where you work somewhere else, but you're always in touch," Legnani said.
Designing an Offboarding Process
Needs will vary from organization to organization. Former employees fall into different groups and each has a different expectation of value. Interns and new hires may be looking for a mentor, retirees for board or consulting work, and others want learning opportunities, community involvement, networking, social support, partnerships or referrals.
"There is not one right way to design an offboarding program," said Alison Dachner, associate professor of management at John Carroll University in Cleveland, and the other author of the report. "The offboarding program needs to fit with the company's strategy and culture. It should be carefully designed to align with the other HR practices."
Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.