Former Employees Are Stakeholders Too

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There are many articles about the benefits of engaging with former employees. From the opportunity to re-hire someone with a low onboarding expense to using their network for both customer and employee recommendations, the benefits can be significant. All these articles extoll the benefits, but none of them have any recommendations about how to engage a former employee. In this article I will talk about some of my ideas (all of them untested and just random thought bubbles) in the hope that someone will implement them and give me some feedback on how well they work.

# Shared Chat

Many of the chat systems used by businesses have a free tier. Slack’s free tier restricts the message history size and Microsoft Teams has few restrictions, it isn’t hard to set-up an additional instance of one of these services and encourage both current and former staff to join.

If you’re going to implement this I would recommend removing all social channels from your internal chat system; that system should be kept for internal company communications. Invite all your current staff (and any former staff that you can) to the new chat instance using their personal email address; this will give your current staff a way to interact with each other and former staff. Add an extra step to your onboarding process to invite new staff to the new chat instance and explain the purpose of it to them; this will ensure that no-one is missed in the future. Finally, and this is the bit that will take some extra effort from the organisation, post updates to the chat anytime something of interest happens; this will keep former employees engaged in what is happening, will help them to see job vacancies (and maybe recommend someone or apply themselves), and will make them feel as though they are still involved. It also helps if senior leadership within the company are actively involved in the chat.

The one major concern I have for this concept is the potential for abuse. The last thing you want is a disgruntled employee using the system to poach staff or badmouth the organisation. To alleviate this risk ensure people understand the acceptable use of the system and be willing to lock people out if they are abusing it.

# Spare Hot-desks

As Australia (and perhaps the rest of the world) recovers from COVID-19, many workplaces are finding they have spare desks as people choose to work from home. Rather than letting these desks go to waste they could easily be made available to former employees. Some employees may have accepted a role that is significantly further from their residence, some may have moved interstate or overseas but still come back to visit, some may have started their own business; as long as they aren’t working for a competitor there is little risk in allowing them to use on of the spare desks you have. Although I haven’t written the article about how I see a good work-from-home policy being implemented (I’ll link it here when I write it), if you have some sort of a booking system for hot-desks then it would be easy to make this accessible to your former employees.

Especially when they have only recently left the company the benefits of allowing the employee to work from the office are that they can share their knowledge that may otherwise have been lost during handover; they can still feel engaged with the other staff and the business; and, if their new gig doesn’t work out, they have easy access to hiring managers and the HR staff to talk about rejoining the company.

# Event Invitations

Most organisations have a number of events throughout the year; from internal team building events, to lunch ‘n’ learns (or brown bags), meetups, customer engagement events, or even the office Christmas party. Why not extend the invitation to former employees? Depending on the number of engaged former employees you have you may need to ask them to pay their own way, but in most cases the costs of inviting them to these events will be recouped through other means.

Especially as I work close to a number of former employers, if I were invited to some of their events I would jump at the chance to attend; in my case it isn’t because I want to go and work for them again (although in some cases I likely would if the right role were available), it’s because I want to see how they are going, catch-up with people I worked with, and generally maintain a relationship so I remain confident in recommending them to my network as great employers or service providers.

# Mailing List

The least effective (but maybe still important) way of keeping former employees engaged is to maintain a mailing list. Although people don’t seem to read emails as much any more (we get more than enough already), if you can provide relevant and timely information to them they will be more likely to read it. I’d recommend including information about happenings within the company (new product upgrades or releases, major events etc), open roles, people who are moving on to other opportunities, and even a section for news about former employees.

When thinking about effective mailing lists of a similar purpose I think of the newsletter I received from my old high school. Over 25 years after leaving school I still read the email every 3 months when it arrives. It gives me updates about the school, notifies me of upcoming events and talks about major events in the lives of past students.

# Conclusion

There are many ways to engage with former employees. It doesn’t matter what ones you choose, but don’t be afraid to experiment and ask for feedback. Find one that works for you and your company and make sure you maintain the engagement of these important stakeholders.

If you’ve got any former employee engagement strategies, or if you try any of these I’d love to know more about it. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn and let me know what did or didn’t work for you.