Former employees are a PR edge

I’m disgusted… and this quote sums it up: “When you’re in, you’re a guest, when you’re out, you’re a pest.” This quote is from fictional special forces soldier Mack Gerhardt (Max Martini) on The Unit. If you’ve ever left a job, this may resonate. And it’s a big PR liability.

Last week, I was reminded of this quote when I heard a personal story from a very recognizable friend of mine—his experience should make any company leader squirm. The former company he worked for, after he made a successful exit, had basically cut him off. Suffice it to say, if there’s someone who can open doors, it’s this guy.

When some of my former employers treated me like trash, I used to think it was because I was a nobody. Surely, they’d change their attitude if I was a celebrity of some kind. Nope. Companies treat former employees like trash surprisingly often. Even this guy, who I know you would be familiar with.

But who does this damage? It damages the company.

Former Employees Are PR Gold

Former employees are strategic and vocal advocates in the business community. Your company trains and teaches them and they internalize YOUR brand value—they’re believers! When they leave, they can infiltrate other organizations with your values and build influence deep within the business communities you serve. But instead, leaders cut them off. Sometimes they disparage their character after they leave! How foolish!

If you burn the bridge between you and former employees, those employees can destroy new or existing business opportunities. They can actively work against you. They can even pick off your customers if they land at a competitor.

But if you treat them with respect, even if they’re a competitor, they can protect your customers and possibly send you opportunities. They will influence people in their company and new circle to work with you.

Instead, they should be throwing send-off parties if no other reason than to keep their reputation polished. I understand it hurts to lose a trained employee. It might feel like a breakup, even. But keep in mind, their next stop will likely be in your CUSTOMERS’ or COMPETITORS’ offices. People don’t jump industries frequently.

Former employees as competitors?

Obviously you should limit information with former employees and you shouldn’t be sharing intellectual property with them. That’s too far, but if they’re a competitor, you should treat them as you would an opponent in The Olympic Games. You should compete to win. You should protect your training secrets and advantages. When you win or lose, however, it’s time to honor them. It’s ok to applaud from the sidelines too!

When Employees Come Back

When you treat former employees well, you also leave the door open for them to return later. And when they return, they bring with them unique perspective of the business community. They bring with them knowledge of competitors, and sometimes they bring clients and contacts.

Outside of the obvious moral argument, treating former employees with dignity and respect is a huge PR advantage—a PR advantage many of your competitors (sadly) are losing out on at this very moment.



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