How to Turn Former Employees Into Advocates

Contributed by Roger Patterson, an EO Vancouver member who is the president of visual marketing platform Later and co-founder of accelerator Launch Academy. Roger recently shared his thoughts on how to un-polarize your workplace by creating middle ground and how to combat digital distractions. In this post, he explains why being on good terms with former employees is more important than ever.

One important lesson learned from the Great Resignation is that how we manage our relationships with former employees is more important than ever.

A while back, I heard from a family member who works in the medical field that she’d spotted a patient wearing our company t-shirt at her clinic. The patient hadn’t worked at Later for some time—yet was content donning our corporate logo and spoke positively about our company. As flattering as our branded threads may be, I like to think there was more to his endorsement than just the tee.

How we manage relationships with “ex” employees is crucial. Even if you pride yourself on being a top-ranked workplace or having a great company culture, the likelihood that you will lose talent remains high: Up to 20 percent of employees say they’ll quit their jobs in 2022

So as important as it is to ensure your current team is surviving and thriving, fostering positive exits is also key. Yes, you may be losing a valued worker, but your relationship with a former employee doesn’t end on his or her exit date: It evolves. Here’s how to reframe the end as a new beginning.

Your relationship doesn’t end on an employee’s exit date

When an ex-employee steps into the world, they are armed with stories from their time with your company, which can impact your reputation. Ex-employees become the people who recommend great future employees to you—or turn them off of your brand altogether.

You can’t always be responsible for how an employee reacts or processes an exit, of course, but there’s an opportunity to do what’s within your control to promote the best outcome. Even layoff situations can be executed with respect and dignity. 

Take Airbnb for example, which launched a “talent directory” for employees affected by its pandemic layoffs, or McKinley, which operates alumni networks for former team members. It’s important to ensure off-boarding is done with as much positivity as on-boarding. From resignation acceptance letters that wish employees luck and acknowledge contributions to warm send-offs in Slack (or in person) to piloting career-transition programs, there is a lot that can be done to make the experience as positive as possible. Key at our company is also ensuring every employee has equity—which certainly helps keep our people connected and rooting for us, long after they’re off the payroll.

But beyond the logistics of off-boarding, I think it’s important to simply be proud of your employees’ next opportunities. The further they go, the better it reflects on your company, its training and the talent it produces. 

Ex-employees can make or break your online reputation

It doesn’t take a lot to tarnish an employer’s reputation via social media these days, as anyone who followed Sqirl’s moldy jam saga last summer might have noted. 

That’s not to say bad actors don’t deserve to be called out—rather, it’s important to note it’s easier than ever for the outside world to learn about your company’s practices from viral Twitter threads and sites like Glassdoor where workers can anonymously air their dirty laundry,  for better or for worse. 

When it comes to a company’s digital reputation, there’s real value at stake. Job seekers turn to online reviews to judge a potential employer, and one in three interview candidates has turned down an offer after seeing a negative review. A study by Pentland Analytics found companies that faced a reputation hit on social media experienced a value decline of 30 percent. Making an effort to treat people fairly can go a long way when ex-employees weigh in on public conversation about their experience with your company. 

Work breakups are an opportunity for self-reflection

In many ways, an employee who’s about to leave is one of your most valuable assets; they are more likely to give you insights than your current employees because they have nothing to lose. No matter how many engagement surveys you do, it’s hard to get a clear and honest picture from payrolled employees. An exit interview (particularly when people are leaving under positive circumstances) is a rare chance to get candor. 

And while I don’t believe a company should act on what every former employee demands, it’s important for leaders to value the feedback without taking it personally. Work breakups are often emotional not just for the employee but also for the manager and colleagues involved. For this reason, it’s important for leaders affected by an exit to check in with themselves and examine the why. Was the person indispensable? Will you personally miss him or her? Reframing these concerns as an opportunity to train someone new or build a new friendship can go a long way in ensuring your treatment of the departing and newly promoted or employed is fair. 

Of course, ex-employees walk away with more than a “last impression.” Creating a lasting relationship starts on day one. Treat people right throughout their whole career with you, and you are more likely to create employee ambassadorship. And even better than having ex-employees speak fondly of you is having current employees advocate for you both in and outside the office as they move about their lives. 

A version of this post appeared on Entrepreneur and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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