Alas, recent research suggests that things may not be quite so straightforward, and that employees can leave good bosses as well as bad ones. Regardless of the reason for leaving however, there is a distinct advantage in maintaining good relationships with those ‘alumni’.
“If you have a good relationship with an employee who’s left to join a client or competitor, you can leverage that relationship and potentially use them as a source of future business or as a back-channel source of information,” the authors say. “Therefore, thinking of ex-employees as a strategic constituency is something more organizations should start doing.”
The researchers found that the relationship between manager and employee was a big influence on the employees next job. In other words, if you have a good relationship with your boss, you’re more likely to get a good job next, and naturally are more likely to feel positively towards their former company.
Interestingly though, it reminds us that a good relationship between manager and employee is no guarantee of low employee turnover rates. Whilst it does improve employee engagement and commitment, it has a surprisingly small impact on retention rates.
The study found that a good manager is likely to invest in your potential, and subsequently make you more marketable as an individual. So they’re not so much creating a negative reason for you to leave as much as making you more attractive to other employers.
“You could move up in the organization, but that path may not always be available. Managers also might not want you to go up internally because then they’re losing a valued employee. So it means you’re attractive to employers in the outside job market,” the authors say.
Damned if you do
All of which presents managers with something of a dilemma. If you’re a poor boss then your team are likely to leave on account of you being rubbish, but if you’re a great boss, then you’re likely to make your team more attractive to other employers.
The study suggests that you should still endeavor to be a great boss, for that will encourage employees to think positively of you even if they do leave.
“As a result, they are more likely to be open to a reunion with the organization as a so-called ‘boomerang employee,’ but they could also be a good source of information for the organization,” they say.
This is a point that is worth remembering, as alumni networks of ex-employees are increasingly being created by employers that are looking to extend their influence further.
Some are creating social networks for ex-employees, whilst others are putting on golf tournaments or wine tasting events for their alumni.
Partnerships and collaboration are increasingly important in the modern world, so having good connections throughout your ‘ecosystem’ is always a positive thing.
With this in mind, the authors advocate paying particular attention to your ‘off-boarding’ process to ensure that leaving employees know they are still welcome and valued.
“Companies typically make a great effort in the ‘on-boarding’ process—that is, how to get employees up and running. But scant attention has been paid to the off-boarding process,” the authors say. “When people are leaving, you shouldn’t just stop with an exit interview and a pat on the back. You should be thinking of them as a contact you can tap in the future. So it’s a potential future asset that you want to think strategically about.”
It also helps to make efforts to keep employees onboard, even if managers are aware of how slim the odds are. Even if there is little chance of retaining the employee, it does nonetheless communicate that they are valued and appreciated, which creates a good impression on the soon to be departed.
So, if you’re a manager in an industry with highly sought after talent, you should most certainly look to develop them, but also do all you can to ensure they leave on great terms should they be poached by a rival.