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Why Former Staff Members Might Be Your Greatest Brand Asset To reach its potential, your employer brand strategy should lay the groundwork for a strong alumni community. Here's how.

By Bryan Adams Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Great Resignation continues to fuel workplace trends, and one of the more recently revealed is some portion of regret. A USA Today Harris-Poll found that about one-fifth of professionals who left their jobs now want to return to them (or at least to former companies). In many cases these boomerang individuals, if they are able to, will be returning with greater experience, expanded capabilities and fresh perspectives. Wouldn't it be nice if such alumni were welcomed and incorporated into growth strategies… given a dynamic platform to share newfound skills?

Every successful business knows that one of its greatest assets is its workforce, but many fail to appreciate that this value doesn't have to end when people walk out the door. In fact, an alumni community is an important resource that you're most likely not investing in sufficiently. It's the only group of people associated with your organization that's guaranteed to grow forever, and by nurturing its members and maintaining worthwhile relationships even after employment has ended, you will be able to drastically improve employer branding.

Why is Employer Branding Important?

Employer branding is your company's "word on the street" reputation — the "outside looking in" perspective of everything an organization stands for. Before candidates apply for jobs at yours, they take the temperature of your employer brand by nosing around online and talking to their network. That way, they know what to expect and whether to apply for open positions.

And you can be sure that your alumni will help sway that brand. They'll tweet about their experiences. They'll leave Glassdoor reviews, and will answer questions about what the culture is like when nobody's looking. So, if you treat them like old friends instead of pariahs, you'll both win in multiple ways.

Related: 5 Signs Your Employer Brand Is in Trouble

The Sweet Side of Leaving on a Good Note

Most of us have gone through bad business breakups. They left us feeling stressed, worried and maybe angry. As a result, we look back through a negative lens.

On the other hand, some of us have been lucky enough to be encouraged to move on to better our careers. We've had bosses who are happy for us when we get opportunities, and even stay in touch. They don't hold grudges, which leads us to have more affection or affinity toward an organization that treats people with such respect, and that pays big employer branding dividends.

Maintaining an alumni community can also help with diversity. Organizations are often so concerned about retention and attrition that they forget just how long people are in the workforce. Allowing individuals to come and go ensures that more spaces open up that can be filled with diverse candidates equipped with specific and dynamic skill sets.

Related: Learn How to Truly Leverage an Accelerator's Network

To begin future-proofing your business now, follow these steps:

1. Value People, With No Strings Attached

A consistently winning formula includes demonstrating that people are unconditionally valued. For starters, acknowledge and appreciate team members. Help them do their best work, because being able to share individual talent is what 58% of people told Gallup they wanted in their next job.

Additionally, ensure that your brand is led by a purpose, then help employees contribute to it. People expect their employers to behave and act with a people-first mentality, while also upholding actionable core beliefs. So, make sure you exhibit meaning, purpose and ethics. Talented people will still say goodbye from time to time, but they'll have nothing but good things to say afterwards.

2. Make Leaving a Good Thing

Changing jobs doesn't have to be steeped in negativity. It can be healthy. At McKinsey, for example, a mentality is fostered in which most employees are expected to take flight. Because of this philosophy, there's less worry about attrition because the employer branding is both strong and widely known.

So, instead of trying to hold on to people, reconsider that approach and avoid making resignations taboo. With this methodology, you'll likely get more boomerang employees flocking to your door because they realized the grass wasn't greener elsewhere. You may also see your employer brand sentiment start to rise on social media. Either way, appreciating everyone, including your alumni, pays dividends.

3. Create and Sustain an Alumni Community

Alumni communities often consider themselves part of an elite group. Many are so proud to be alums that they showcase their experiences on social media. Fortune 500 companies have gotten this message, as 98% of them have corporate alumni programs, according to Enterprise Alumni. However, smaller and mid-size businesses generally haven't figured out the powerful nature of these communities… yet.

Your business could easily among the first in your sector to extend benefits to alumni through strategic initiatives. For instance, you might publish an alumni-only e-newsletter that contains relevant and engaging content, and/or set up associated events that are fun and/or educational. The point is for your company to add value to people's lives even after they're no longer on the payroll.

Related: How Companies Like Facebook Can Fix Their Reputations as Employers

Laying the groundwork for a strong and unique alumni community attached to an employer brand and branding strategy can be one of the smartest ways to future-proof an organization, so make yours as solid as possible. At the same time, you want to make sure to keep up with all related initiatives, including DEI and scaling plans. Supporting your alums can help you do all that, and more.

Bryan Adams

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and founder of Ph.Creative

Bryan Adams is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, a global employer-branding agency. He is a prominent employer-brand thought leader as well as a podcaster, speaker and author of "Give and Get Employer Branding."

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