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Friends 4-Ever

Say goodbye, but not good riddance. You may still have a use for those ex-employees.

Used to be that when employees quit, they were considered traitors and told to clean out their desks on the spot. No more. Today, the split is usually amicable; going-away lunches and gifts are common. And it doesn't always end there. When a valued employee leaves your company, there are several reasons to keep in touch.

Former employees who stay in contact with their old bosses will tell others what a good employer you are and what a great place your company is to work at. That kind of person-to-person advertising can bring you more business and help you recruit new employees. The potential for former employees to return later with more skills and experience is another benefit of alumni programs.

Alumni programs aren't just for big businesses. "It's all about creating a mechanism to stay in touch," says Cindy Lewiton Jackson, director of career development and alumni relations at Bain & Co., a Boston-based global strategic consulting firm. "You can do that by inviting them to your holiday party or summer picnic." She also suggests a newsletter with company news updates and short "What are they doing now?" alumni profiles.

Of course, you're only going to have a successful alumni program if your former employees want to stay connected. Realize the person you hire today will likely be a former employee down the road--and start building a lasting relationship the day he or she walks through your front door.

Showing employees you appreciate their work goes a long way toward building a continuing relationship--long after they walk out that door. "It all depends on the culture you foster," says Lewiton Jackson. So when your valued employees get their last paychecks, make sure to celebrate their contributions and accomplishments. And get their new addresses and phone numbers.

Ellen Paris is a Washington, DC, writer and former Forbes magazine staff writer.

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This article was originally published in the November 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Friends 4-Ever.

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