How you exit people can be as important to your talent strategy and employer brand as how you onboard them. Done well it can pay big dividends – encouraging people to return in the future and in the meantime act as advocates in the jobs market.

I remember writing an article on the topic of “boomerang hires” way back in 2011. Then the economy was rebounding from the banking crisis and Chiumento had recently published a research paper on “Corporate Prisoners”. A decade on it feels like a re-visit is long overdue.

Our research paper reflected a growing concern that people were staying with organisations without being truly engaged. Which probably wasn’t surprising given the turmoil in the jobs market after 2008. The typical reaction, in times of economic or social uncertainty, is for many workers to stay put and bunker down. Keeping a job, and protecting an income, becoming more important, at least short-term, than career development or even job satisfaction.

Of course, what that eventually leads to is a pressure cooker of people who’ve hung on in jobs they really don’t like based on a “safety first” mindset. Eventually, the dam has to burst. It is just a matter of when.

Chiumento’s research proved that point perfectly. Something like 45% of the 1,000 plus UK workers surveyed said they were looking to change employer, not just job, in the next 12 months. By the time the report was published confidence to move on had risen dramatically and new job opportunities were once again becoming plentiful.

Fast forward to 2021 and much the same phenomenon is being reported. The “great resignation” is being forecast when the uncertainty, this time caused by a pandemic, starts to recede. Just when that will be we don’t know. Rapidly rising COVID infections in Western Europe prove the pandemic isn’t over. And who knows what impact the new Omicrom variant will have…

Recent articles I have read suggest the flood of resignations may well already be underway in the US. With the prediction that the cork will truly come out of the bottle here in the UK next Spring. If, and it’s a big if, more COVID restrictions aren’t required between now and then. Taking the leap to change employer requires confidence. The dearth of candidates out there at the minute suggests that is still a way off.

In the lull before the storm, organisations need to be thinking about how they will manage those resignations. They will come. And you need to be ready.

Of course, the ultimate strategy is to make sure every individual is locked in and has no desire to leave. However, experience tells me that that strategy alone won’t work. You just can’t ignore the “grass is greener” and “its time for a change” factors. You will rarely be able to satisfy every ambition for a bigger, or different, job. Attrition will happen.

Recruiters are telling me already that the market is awash with existing employers making counter-offers as it is so hard to hire replacements. That’s a tactic that is inevitable but also an imperfect science. All the data suggests that even if your initial counter offer works, the individual is still highly likely to move on within a year. Those itchy feet linger on. So in many cases, this will, sadly, just be a delaying tactic.

So that brings us neatly to what happens if someone resigns and you can’t keep them? How you react and behave is really key.

I’ve seen firsthand how some managers treat staff as pariahs as soon as their resignation is handed in. Staff who were praised one day being badged as somehow disloyal and ungrateful the next. The whole notice period being uncomfortable not just for line managers and the employee concerned but the whole team. Just imagine for a moment what the people who are staying will be thinking when management opinion of a colleague suddenly flips overnight… They might well be thinking “how quickly could their view of me change?”

What I’ve also observed is that leavers often find that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. And the fresh start isn’t the easy option. They miss former colleagues. They find being the “newbie” in a different organisation and culture stressful and the transition hard. What we used to call “induction crisis”. Even if they get safely through the first few months, the chances are they will be looking for another career change in 2-3 years. Which is no time at all in a long-term war for talent.

So if someone is great, why wouldn’t you want to maximise your chances of getting them back? After all they are a known quantity and will be far easier to get up to speed. Your ability to re-hire will be heavily influenced by how you managed their exit. Do it well and the “boomerang” effect may well kick in.

Get the exit right, and stay in touch, and your Alumni can also become a powerful force for advocacy in the job market too. Equally, get it wrong and you can be sure they’ll tell new colleagues, friends, and family how they were treated in their last weeks and months. Bad news travels much faster than good news when it comes to employer reputation.

Chiumento isn’t a recruitment business. We don’t have databases of candidates. We don’t fill jobs, champion individual candidates, or charge placement fees. What we do offer is support to businesses that want, or need, to re-think how they bring talent into their organisation. Sometimes as a stand-alone project, but more often as part of a holistic talent management strategy. With over a century of recruitment and selection experience across every continent, our team can help organisations think about how they attract candidates and make better hiring decisions – including utilising tools like psychometrics and assessment centres. And then we help retain that talent through great culture, strong values, inspiring leadership, and great development interventions. And, of course, our colleagues in our outplacement business know all about managing exits successfully.

Always happy to talk to organisations about their talent issues and provide some fresh insights and ideas. We don’t charge for initial exploratory meetings so even if we don’t end up working together you may well pick up a few free “nuggets” to get you started. Get in touch to find out more.