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Published: 3 week

Alumni for life: maintaining good relations with former colleagues is strategic

Keeping in touch with your former workplace, joint activities with former colleagues? Could there come a time when we would boomerang back to our former employer? A corporate alumni network of former colleagues can provide an opportunity to do just that. How should it be run? Why is it worthwhile for the company, what opportunities does it offer the ex-employee? How can it be a win-win situation for everyone?

alumni, közösség, volt munkatárs-

While retaining talented employees is a key challenge for companies, it is part of life that an employee may find another opportunity, perhaps on better terms, or simply want to look around the world and gain new experience in another company. This is usually a challenge for employers, as replacing an employee can cost millions, and the knowledge and experience gained in the company is taken with the outgoing colleague. At the same time, it is no longer appropriate to hold a long-term grudge against the departing employee, but it is also appropriate to ask what prompted him/her to take this step (exit interview) and even to try to maintain a good relationship after the separation. After all, it may be worth it for the former employer in the long run. It is no coincidence that many large companies are now explicitly building their alumni community, as higher education institutions in particular used to do, investing money and resources in this process.

It's worth considering that LinkedIn's Workforce Confidence Index shows that half of employees plan to look for a new job in 2024, HBR.org reports. In other words, it seems almost inevitable that some workers will have to say goodbye to managers and companies, despite their reluctance to let them go. Maintaining a good relationship with these departing colleagues can either bring business opportunities or industry insights to the former employer, strengthen the employer brand, offer a good candidate for recruitment if the ex-employee knows the organisation well, or even return to the company after a period of time as a so-called bumper employee.

Many large companies already have well-designed alumni programmes to reach out to former colleagues, providing information about the company, building a community, giving them the opportunity to stay in touch with each other, or even organising events specifically aimed at alumni. However, there are more companies who are just tasting this opportunity or just starting down this path, and there are a few things to consider in advance:

  1. Invest in the programme (money and manpower),

  2. Platform and benefits (a platform that not only provides connectivity but also valuable data for the company),

  3. Give and receive feedback,

  4. And it is worth building the opportunity into the employee lifecycle (not just at the very end, but even during recruitment, signalling that the company will support the new entrant's career, even if it takes them elsewhere in the future)

Focus on engagement

"The focus of the alumni programme is community building, so the staff responsible for it are often community engagement managers. A kind of community of values based on nostalgia needs to be created from former colleagues, but of course, in addition to nostalgia and good shared experiences, it is also necessary to build on the services and benefits provided to them (e.g. discounts, access to professional conferences, events, journals).


Szabados Levente

The structure of the programme is very similar in higher education and in business, despite the possible differences in objectives, stresses Balázs Kenyeres, co-founder. As he pointed out, in both cases there are mandatory elements: for example, there should be an alumni strategy, an alumni platform and indicators that provide feedback on the functioning of the community. Fine-tuning the strategy, roughly 30%, is what makes the difference between a university and a company.

In the experience of the experts, the Covid epidemic has boosted the popularity of alumni programmes in companies globally, and this trend is becoming increasingly noticeable in Hungary, especially among multinational companies. In many cases, these programmes are not specifically designed for the Hungarian market, but the global initiative reaches the Hungarian subsidiary. However, they see that it is better to tailor these initiatives along regional, socio-cultural common values, because this way there is a greater chance of connection and more common ground.

Sources, dedicated staff

Questions to be asked: is there a corporate alumni strategy, is there a full-time staff member specifically dedicated to alumni affairs, in which department is it appropriate to place him/her, how many staff should be hired for this task? In general, the experience is that it pays to have someone dedicated to the initiative because it can act as a recruitment, employer branding and sales catalyst.

As such, in many cases an alumni officer can be placed in the HR organisation or in the marketing communications unit, or alongside a business unit manager, partner or even in sales.

A good initiative can be made to work if there is a demand for it from the employees, which the company can embrace. To do this, it is also important to know what the needs of alumni are when joining the alumni community, and these needs should be met by the alumni programme. For example, in the case of a consulting firm, alumni want to attend a lot of events and gain fresh industry information and knowledge. Then you need to provide access to this, because that's how grateful and engaged alumni will be. Levente Szabados emphasised that it is not about building a database, but about active community organisation, which can be achieved by organising an annual alumni meeting, sending out an alumni newsletter, an employee referral programme, and by introducing a platform for operating these, which will host all alumni-related online activities. The Harvard Business Review article, for example, cites Accenture's global alumni network of 400,000 in 80 countries, managed through a formal, dedicated platform.

It is worth assessing the level of investment in an alumni programme and planning ahead for the number of alumni the organisation wants to open up, as it is easy for the initial budget to become low as membership grows. Things to consider in the calculation are the size of the company, the number of former and current employees and the turnover rate, as these will project the expenses.

It is possible that the number of employees may increase to a small number of small alumni.


Balázs Kenyeres

  1. Top management needs to commit to launching an alumni programme
  2. .
  3. We need an alumni strategy.

  4. Need a full-time staff member responsible for alumni program and relations.b9]

  5. Communications

    We should pay attention to the balance of communication and not "overwhelm" former colleagues with too much information. The majority of companies with a formal alumni programme communicate with their members on a quarterly (31%) or monthly (36%) basis. It is advisable to segment even within the community. SAP does this, for example. It tailors its content differently for different groups: former senior executives, alumni still at the beginning of their careers, or retirees living in specific geographical regions.

    It's worth tracking milestones, such as the one-year anniversary of leaving, as research shows that contacting a former employee one year after leaving is the best time to raise the possibility of returning to the organisation.

    Lifelong connection

    The majority of organizations with an alumni program give out networking materials to departing employees upon exit (76%) and/or send an email on the last day encouraging them to sign up for the program (73%).

    But a more comprehensive approach can embed the alumni program into the entire employee lifecycle, where the program is an integrated part of the employee experience. Some companies make new employees aware of the community as soon as they join. McKinsey and McDonalds, for example, introduce an alumni programme as part of the onboarding process at the recruitment stage. In this way, the organisation shows that it supports employees in their career development, even if it means moving on from the company after a while.

    Levente Szabados, an expert at Daskalos Consulting, also highlighted the importance of the alumni community in the employee lifecycle. As he said, it is the second part of the employee life cycle, which can last a lifetime and from which both parties can benefit. This of course presupposes a positive relationship and separation. Joining the alumni community is of course not compulsory, the company can be selective in who it allows into its platforms. Such a community is primarily for those who have positive feelings about the company, because they have spent a long time there, have even developed friendships and have an important community.

    Caption from Unsplash

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