Don’t lose track of high performing employees who take a hiatus

When I work with organizations to develop return-to-work programs for professionals re-entering the workforce after a career hiatus, one key question always arises: “Where do we find these returning professionals?”

While there are multiple sources employers can use to locate returnees–university alumni career services offices, referrals from current employees, and return-to-work conferences–there’s one source they should never overlook: Their own “regrettable losses,” meaning high performers who’ve left to go on career hiatus.

The “regrettable loss” is a cherished resource because these high performers have already proven their talent and know the employer and the work intimately.  With the large numbers of returning professionals and other career transitioner populations (e.g. as of 2013, there were 2.6 million women in the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 54, with at least one child at home, and a Bachelor’s degree or higher, who were not in the labor force), employers need to plan for the future.

One of the most effective tools to increase the odds of re-hiring a high performer returning from career hiatus is by conducting a well-crafted exit interview and a skillful post-employment follow-up.

Employers who make the exit interview a meaningful experience and offer a concrete means of maintaining a close connection once the employee has left are sending a strong message to employees departing for career breaks. The employee can be conflicted about leaving the company and concerned about whether they’ve burned a bridge–or whether a future career remains possible.  The exit interview provides an opportunity to reassure the employee that the relationship with the company will continue, and that the employer remains invested.

Companies that place a low priority on exit interviewing, assign it to an inexperienced staffer, or fail to put in place a post-employment contact program lose the natural advantage they start with in recruiting the employee, if and when the employee decides to return to the workforce.  A high-quality exit interview is the first step in making sure the employee, who invariably experiences an increasing loss of confidence as the career hiatus extends, remains comfortable about reconnecting with their pre-career break employer.

To make the most of an exit interview with a high performing employee who is leaving to go on career hiatus, the following elements should be included:

  1. An express statement that the employer would like to speak with the employee first if and when the employee is thinking about returning to work.
  2. Documentation of the employee’s successful performance at the time of exit.
  3. Assignment of an alumni relationship contact.

Continue reading… Harvard Business Review

by Carol Fishman Cohen

First published at Harvard Business Review by Carol Fishman Cohen

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