Why your company’s biggest brand ambassadors aren’t who you think.

Anthony Klotz, the Texas A&M professor who introduced the world to the concept of “The Great Resignation” expects “quit rates” to remain higher than average for the next couple of years. As in – the great resignation is far from over.

With what’s being referred to as an “employees’ market,” companies are turning to their talent to help fill open positions.

As such, we’ve heard a lot of “your employees are your best brand ambassadors.” Semi-true.

Your current employees are often incentivized to refer people. Either monetarily (sometimes up to $5,000 per accepted referral), by the thought of a lessened or distributed workload, or simply by the opportunity to work alongside an acquaintance.

Even bigger than your current employees? Your past employees. While current employees are often seen as a company’s best brand ambassadors, past employees often have far more influence in a company’s recruiting strategy company’s may realize.

In this recent power-shift between organizations and employees brought on by the Great Resignation, many employees are putting employers in the hotseat by asking questions in interviews such as, “why did the last person in this role leave?” or “when was the last time you took employee feedback and changed something in the organization based on it?”

Another new trend that’s on the rise is contacting a former employee who recently left the company, inquiring about their experience, their potential future team, and why they left.

This is especially important for companies to consider because your past employees are not incentivized to sugarcoat anything about the company.

They’re more inclined to share whether the company walks the talk.

CONSIDER YOUR EXIT STRATEGY

An employee/ employer relationship is exactly that: a relationship. And like every lifecycle, it has three parts – the beginning, middle and end. And while you may always be tinkering with and fine-tuning the middle, you have a lot of control over the end.

Just like organizations pay close attention to how someone departs, employees are paying close attention to how the organization sends them or their peers off.

“When one employee leaves, others start thinking about doing the same,” Klotz says. Couple ‘turnover contagion’ and ‘boomerang employees’ on the rise, with a hyper-focus on how the organization responds, and you’ve got a potential recipe for your next employee exit.  

So how do you best part ways with departing employees with grace and professionalism?

  • Ask for feedback – with the intention to act on it. Ask what contributed to their decision to search elsewhere, or what feedback they have for you or the organization Regardless of what they share, thank them for their honesty. Bonus points if you reach out to them after they’ve left to let them know their feedback was implemented. Nothing feels better than knowing you’ve been heard.
  • Thank them privately and gracefully for their contributions. First, thank them in the moment. Most employees won’t be staying with you through retirement, so make sure they feel valued for the time they did spend there. As shocked as you might be, don’t slight them or their decision. A friend who just resigned had a member of her team’s leadership say “I hear that company is taking just about anyone right now,” while he simultaneously tried to counter-offer her. The end result? That conversation made her feel even more confident in her decision to leave.
  • Thank them – and address their transition – publicly. When you’ve solidified their transition plan and you’re ready to share their news, send an email. With the recent uptick in resignations, employers have resorted to not sending out emails for fear that it will cause alarm. When in fact, the lack thereof is causing more concern and swirl.

This public appreciation is important for 2 reasons:

(1) It shows they were valued. While not acknowledging someone’s departure may leave a bad taste in their mouth, it also impacts their peers – who might be thinking “that person contributed so much and didn’t get a proper goodbye or thank you… what am I doing here?”

(2) It helps control the rumor mill. Finding out an employee left through the grapevine can raise cause for alarm, “who else has left and why is it being covered up?” Or, “are there other things I should be worried about?” With data supporting that employees value transparency, staying on top of the rumor mill is imperative.

  • Take the high road, and don’t take it personally. Never, under any circumstances, badmouth them once they’ve left. There’s nothing worse than hearing negative talk about a former employee.

In a past role, after my boss left, my interim boss suggested using her an excuse both internally and externally whenever something needed to be addressed. “Just blame it on X,” she would tell me.

Hearing leadership, peers or co-workers badmouthing a previous employee (or friend) contributes to the anxiety of “what would they say about me when I leave?”  Remember, what Sally says of Susie says more about Sally than Susie.

Just as employees emphasize the first impression with your company – almost always remembering their recruiting experience – the last impression is of equal importance. Past employees can be your best or worst brand ambassadors, and while much if it depends on their experience in the middle, the end is the closing of the book for them. Remember, even a book with a strong middle is likely to be less recommended when the ending is poor.

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