Corporate Alumni Programs for the New Normal

July 14, 2020

Corporate Alumni Programs for the New Normal

If you are like most people in today’s labor market, it’s unlikely that you are currently working at your first company. Like a lot of my friends and colleagues, my curriculum vitae lists a number of former employers. If you represent an organization and don’t expect to have future interactions with departing employees, you wouldn’t be alone. Yet, we’re discovering now that maintaining lifelong relationships after employment ends has significant benefits for both employers and departing employees.

The traditional end of the employment relationship is often characterized by an (at times awkward) exit interview and occasionally a note of gratitude for service. However, many innovative companies are beginning to re-imagine the employee exit process and reframe it as an opportunity to extend the relationship rather than end it. 

This relationship can be particularly powerful when developed and supported through emerging organizational initiatives called corporate alumni programs. While corporate alumni programs have been around for decades, they have grown in prominence over the past several years and have taken on new importance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airbnb and Carta are just two examples of organizations that highlighted the importance of corporate alumni networks as they navigated the uncertainties of managing a workforce during the pandemic. 

Thus, as we embark into a post-pandemic world of work, organizations are presented with a unique opportunity to re-envision the employee experience as one that extends beyond the exit. This is an opportune moment to embrace the idea of corporate alumni networks in order to benefit from the full range of competitive advantages they can provide for talent management strategies and the bottom line.

What Are Corporate Alumni Programs?

Corporate alumni programs enable organizations to foster trusted, lifelong relationships with former employees through ongoing planned, strategic outreach. These alumni networks typically include program elements such as an alumni management platform, newsletter/email flashes, virtual and offline events, training and development sessions, and networking opportunities.

Both organizations and former employees stand to benefit from corporate alumni programs. For participating alumni, the benefits of corporate alumni programs include networking, job opportunities, educational and professional development, product/service discounts and participation in corporate social responsibility initiatives. Similarly, sponsoring organizations can benefit from the development of brand ambassadors, sales and partnership opportunities, or qualified rehires or referrals.

Market Forces Blow-Up Traditional Employment Models

Traditional employment models have been rapidly evolving in the face of five emerging market trends. As a result, organizations have had to rethink their talent management strategies. 

  1. Acceleration in the retirement of boomers. Approximately 10,000 baby boomers reach the retirement age every day and this trend will continue until 2030 when all boomers have turned 65. As workers of this generation begin to retire from the workforce, companies will need to manage the dramatic impact of this brain drain on the labor force.
  2. Decreasing tenure of younger generations in the workforce. Millennials have risen to the top of the labor force in the last few years, bringing with them different attitudes about loyalty to employers and work/life balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job tenure for millennials is only 2.8 years.
  3. The automation revolution. Technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to lead to the automation of many jobs, while at the same time creating new jobs that require specialized skills.
  4. The impact of employer review sites and social media. Sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Twitter have an amplified and influential voice in the talent marketplace as they share “what it’s really like to work there.” 
  5. Shifting organizational structures as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has rapidly altered where and how employees work. Organizations are taking a fresh look at how teams are defined and the possibility of long-term remote workers. 

How Corporate Alumni Programs Fit the New Normal

Corporate alumni programs help organizations and employees navigate the new normal by creating connections that benefit everyone. Organizations provide a valuable community and resource for former employees and receive an incredible return in the form of brand advocacy, business development and talent acquisition.

Brand Advocacy
Organizations can determine the Net Promoter Score of their corporate alumni to measure the overall perception of their brands over time and predict future business growth from these groups. As part of my dissertation research at the ILR School at Cornell University, we discovered that alumni engaged by corporate alumni programs are up to 32 percent more likely to recommend the company’s products and/or services. 

Business Development
My research also revealed that former employees who feel connected to an organization are more likely to engage the company for new business deals or recommend products/services to others. This is important as prior findings suggest alumni can have significant effects on current client relationships.

Talent Acquisition
In light of post-COVID 19 uncertainty, organizations may need more flexibility in hiring practices. Perspectives on hiring alumni are changing and organizations that are open to adaptation are likely to obtain a competitive edge. Traditionally, it takes about 42 days and costs about $4,000 to hire a new employee. Organizations that leverage the power of their alumni network stand to save significant time and resources spent on attracting and interviewing candidates as well as socializing new hires. 

Real Benefits From Long-Term Relationships

The end of an employee’s time with an organization doesn’t need to be the end of the relationship, especially as we all learn how to deal with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rethinking your approach to talent management to include extending the relationship with former employees through corporate alumni programs creates benefits for everyone involved. 

The Authors: 

Rebecca Paluch, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Division at UBC Sauder School of Business.