Universities have long banked on the goodwill of their alumni to fund their educational programs and promote their school brands. Now, with the job market favoring job seekers and not employers, companies are looking to capitalize on their own “alumni:” ex-employees.
The concept of “corporate alumni” is not new. Professional services companies, especially well-respected global consulting and accounting firms such as Accenture, Deloitte, and McKinsey & Company, have in part built their long-standing brands on the pride of their corporate alumni networks for decades. Someone who has worked at McKinsey is always a McKinsey guy or gal for life. Now, other companies are taking note and seeing corporate alumni programs as a way to enhance brand awareness, attract or re-attract top talent and improve sales.
Former employees who stay engaged with their previous employers are sometimes called “boomerang employees” and “comeback colleagues,” the latter referring to workers who return to an employer after a hiatus. By keeping ex-employees in the fold, savvy corporations are leveraging their human capital in the best way possible.
3 Major Benefits of Corporate Alumni Programs
In the Society for Human Resource Management’s comprehensive report on engagement with ex-employees, three main drivers are identified as to what motivates a company to engage alumni. These drivers are:
- Brand advocacy: 86%
- Talent acquisition: 66%
- Business development: 76%
1. Brand Promotion and Good Will
Ex-employees of all levels can help or hurt a company in numerous ways. With the proliferation of social media, disgruntled employees can do a lot of damage to a company’s reputation with the click of a button. Many job hunting sites provide a place for employees to review the company as a workplace.
Former employees are more likely to leave bad reviews than current employees, but if they are part of a corporate alumni program, reviews tend towards being more positive. Poor reviews of a company, especially for a smaller company or start-up without a lot of brand cache, can absolutely hurt the ability of a company to attract and retain new talent.
On the other hand, ex-employees who feel valued and connected to a company through an alumni program are less likely to lash out online. Ideally, these former employees then become “brand ambassadors,” instead of brand destroyers.
2. Talent Acquisition and Retention
Of course, simply keeping in touch with employees after they have quit, especially due to a bad experience on the job, won’t be enough. Employees need to be treated well while on the job in order to generate enough goodwill.
This speaks, however, to the pressing needs of management to not only attract top talent, but retain that talent. The days are long gone when the average employee would spend decades with the same employer and retire with a gold watch on ones wrist. Today, this is the exception and not the rule. The trend in recent years has been towards frequent job hopping, and this started with Generation X: both Millennials and GenXers between 18 and 35 would average a mere 13 months on the job.
As companies (such as McKinsey) talk about “employee experience” for on-the-job satisfaction, post-job goodwill is also becoming increasingly important. To make goodwill last, ex-employees can be wooed and kept “in the fold” through smart corporate alumni programs. This helps with talent acquisition in numerous ways: former employees can refer their friends for positions. And, the best talent that left may be more likely to rejoin the company if they feel appreciated by an alumni program.
3. Sales and Business Development
When former staff members feel like they are still part of an exciting team, they are more likely to say positive things about a business, promote its products and services, and refer friends and colleagues for job positions. Brands actually benefit from people seeing their purchases as a form of self-expression. As brand ambassadors, boomerang employees help drive bottom-line sales by promoting a positive view of the company.
How Companies Keep Their Ex-Employees Engaged
Corporations with successful alumni programs use a number of approaches to keep employees engaged. These include networking opportunities, virtual training programs, alumni discounts and rewards, and career support.
Keeping in Touch with Employee Alumni Is Worth It
Through the implementation of corporate alumni programs, companies can better attract and regain top talent. Better brand awareness and improved sales are also positive “side effects.”