Two contrasting posts on my LinkedIn feed this week highlighted the importance of making sure that departing employees leave your business on a positive note. One was from an employee who was chuffed to bits that a senior executive had taken the time to show up on his last day and say a few appreciative words. The other was a long-serving, loyal (and now disgruntled) member of staff who had walked out of the door at the end of their final shift without so much as a goodbye or thank you from anyone on the management team.

Now every company has its share of employees who have been disruptive, unpleasant or incompetent and who they are glad to see the back of. But rogue staff are (hopefully) in the minority and there are many reasons why it might pay for your business to keep in touch with ‘the ex’.

Maintaining a good relationship is more difficult, of course, if you are having to let employees go because of a downsizing or reorganisation. People will inevitably be upset, but if they are treated with compassion and respect, offered support and allowed to leave with dignity, they are more likely to maintain positive feelings about the business once they’ve got over the initial shock.

Keeping on friendly terms is also important if people leave for a competitor. You may have to put them on garden leave to protect the company’s interests, but that doesn’t mean you have to take their departure personally and adopt a ‘never darken my doorstep’ approach.

Here are five reasons why it’s important to make sure employees ‘leave right’:

1. You might want them back

Employees leave their jobs for all sorts of reasons. They’ve been tempted by a higher salary on offer elsewhere. Opportunities for them to progress weren’t available when they needed them. They wanted a chance to learn new skills that weren’t required in your business at the time.

In a fast-moving and ambiguous climate, however, things change fast and shifts in the market or a new strategic approach might make your business an attractive proposition to them again in the future – at a time when you might be equally keen to entice them back. Ex-employees often make great recruits because they understand your culture and how things work, are often returning with valuable new skills and experience and can hit the ground running. These ‘boomerang’ employees are becoming more common as Generation Y – whose hunger for progression and average two-year job tenure – become more established in the workforce.

2. They are your best brand ambassadors

There’s no better ambassador for your brand than an ex-member of staff who has left the business with a nice warm glow. They will talk positively to friends and family about your products and services and may even go so far as to actively endorse them. They are also more likely to spring to your defence if the business attracts uncalled for flak or receives a bad review. And, of course, there’s also the all-important Glassdoor review (a site where employees give feedback about how good or otherwise a company is to work for).

Keeping past employees in the loop about new products or company developments will help to maintain these positive relationships and make people feel as if they are still part of the family.

3. They can help you find new talent

Ex-employees can be a great source of referrals when you’re recruiting. Research by Glassdoor suggests that referred applicants tend to have a greater success rate, typically receiving more job offers than those who have applied ‘cold’. This is because past staff know your business and understand the corporate DNA. They are more likely to refer candidates who they know have the right skills for the job and who will be a good cultural fit.

Making sure past employees are among the first to know about job opportunities can help you get the right talent quickly. You might even want to consider offering an incentive to those who refer candidates who end up being recruited.

4. A badly managed exit affects existing employees

There’s nothing like seeing a colleague being poorly treated to ruffle the feathers of the remaining team. If someone ‘disappears’ with no announcement about their resignation being made, people will gossip and speculate about why they are leaving and whether they are going to be replaced.

If a departing employee is ignored, bad-mouthed or has problems negotiating the practicalities of their leaving, it will have an immediate impact on morale. People’s opinion of the company, their manager and the capabilities of HR will take a nose-dive and there will almost certainly be a decline in productivity.

Make sure departures are handled efficiently and everyone is kept informed about what’s happening. Use the exit interview not just to gain valuable information about why people are leaving, but also to encourage them to keep in touch and ensure they know the door will remain open.

5. They could bring you new business

When employees leave, they typically move to a role within the same industry or area of expertise. They may go to a competitor, a supplier, an industry organisation or even a client. This makes them an important part of your network and definitely worth keeping in touch with. They could become an important influencer, a source of industry information and a supporter who can help to raise your company’s profile. Who knows, they may even become your next big client.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.