soften view of ex-workers
Once scorned as deserters, they're now valued and courted
BY Ellen Simona, Associated Press
St Paul Pioneer Press
Monday, December 18, 2006
NEW YORK — The old view of corporate exes — employees who leave
for other jobs — was that they were deserters and traitors who
must never be spoken of again.
The new view: They're a fantastic network.
"Either they're our clients, or potential clients or referrals
to other clients," said Jill Smart, chief human resources
officer at Accenture Ltd. "They also help as teachers and
mentors for our people."
Particularly in fields where the labor pool is tight, today's
ex-employee is seen as tomorrow's current employee. The
message: We'll keep a light on for you in your old cubicle.
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta sends former nurses the
hospital's employee magazine, Careforce Chronicles. The
Principal Financial Group sends former employees letters twice a
year saying, "We're the same company you enjoyed; consider us
Departed employees are courted with official employee alumni
networks that offer electronic directories of former colleagues,
job listings, continuing education, Microsoft's alumni group
rented the entire Seattle Aquarium for its after-the-holidays
party last year. Accenture toasted its alumni with drinks and
appetizers at New York's Museum of Natural History.
Some departing employees are singled out for a charm offensive.
Audit senior manager Danica Dilligard left Ernst & Young LLP in
2003 after six years with the company. E&Y's courtship began
almost immediately. The E&Y partners she'd worked with called,
saying, "Just wanted to make sure you're happy. There's always
a home for you here." She was invited to E&Y golf outings,
where she played in a foursome with the partners. She was
included in professional certification courses and welcomed at
One of the partners' calls came after the hectic run-up to a
budget meeting at her new job, where she was a controller
overseeing a $300 million operation. She hadn't seen her family
all week. She said, "It's time. Can we have lunch?" she
He promised that if she returned, she'd have more flexibility
than she did before, including the time to coach her daughter's
cheerleading squad of 45 7- and 8-year-olds. She returned to
E&Y after three years on the other job. Her team at E&Y pushes
her out the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays so she can make it to
cheerleading practice and the squad has won two local
The way E&Y's partners tended to their relationship with her is
a far cry from how corporations used to see departed workers.
Vandy Van Wagener, who became brand manager of Ivory soap at
Procter & Gamble Co. in 1977, remembers how departing executives
were viewed then. The day he started his new position, he went
to the personnel department to find a photo of the brand manager
he'd replaced, who had left for another company. The man's
photo was already in the wastebasket.
Jerry Stevenson, now a director in the communications practice
at Buck Consultants, tells a similar story about Electronic Data
Systems Corp. "When I left EDS almost two years ago, all formal
communication with the company ended." That was an element of
the company's culture, he said. "An old joke within the company
went, 'When you leave EDS, they scrape your car off the parking
David Arcemont, vice president of global recruiting at EDS
disagrees, saying the company has always welcomed back former
employees. In 2006, roughly 7.5 percent of hires were returning
employees, he said. Gordon Curry, an executive speechwriter at
the company, said he was welcomed back as a freelancer four
months after he left and was quickly given his old job back,
Corporate views of past employees may have softened partly
because the waves of layoffs that started in the 1980s meant the
number of former employees was legion. Many former workers
hadn't jumped; they were pushed. When the economy got better,
some returned to their old companies as consultants, temps or
In law, accounting and consulting, where relationships are as
important as credentials, companies have realized an updated
phone, e-mail and title directory of former employees may be one
of their greatest assets.