We are family

Recently I’ve had some work done on my house to convert our garage into an extra bedroom ready for the arrival of the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, also known as my 4th child. The work was done by someone I used to work with who now runs his own building company, and involved bits of work from a few others who worked at the same place.

It got me thinking about this community of ex employees of one specific organisation, as I’ve seen examples of us drawing together that suggests that we had something special going on in terms of employee engagement. This blog will explore what this means.

When we all worked there, for more than a decade in my case, there was the strongest sense of family and community that I’ve ever seen in any organisation. People genuinely cared about each other and supported each other both in work and outside. On one occasion when a colleagues wife unfortunately passed away, leaving him with three young children unexpectedly,  around 100 staff each donated 1-2 days annual leave to him to allow him to take time off. And I could list a dozen or more examples of similar support and care.

When I left, it came at a time of major transformation for the organisation, and in the two years since quite a few others have also left, and when each one does, there is a gathering of staff who worked there all around the same decade and we all get together and talk about almost everything. The same is true for periodic smaller reunion gatherings. On one occasion, someone had left the organisation after being off sick for a lengthy period of time, and who hadn’t been in touch with many people for a long time. They asked if ex colleagues would come out for a drink to mark their leaving, and over 50 people turned up. And there’s more examples too.

And now we are very much a community of alumni, of ex employees, not linked to the organisation that once employed us and brought us together any more, but still as helpful and supportive to each other as if we still worked there. Hence the builders doing the work for me this week. Hence the amount of free advice I tend to give to ex colleagues on HR matters wherever they may be (what that says about their new HR teams, I don’t know), and why there exist such things as walking clubs and regular curry nights for the ex employees. Many of us now work for ourselves and others elsewhere, but we keep in contact and help each other in our new ventures and offer support for those of us needing it just like we would have done when we all worked in the same place.

This has made me reflect on both employee engagement and the employee experience. In the 12 years I was there, we won several awards for our approach to people management, with engagement always being cited as impressive, and it was a tangible thing to see in every aspect of the organisation. I’ve wrote and spoke a lot about it all before.

But what I didn’t realise is how this can transcend the organisation itself and create something unexpected.

Many organisations will actively manage communities of ex employees, or alumni. But how many organisations have an active and thriving community of alumni without any prompting from or involvement by the organisation itself? There are probably 100 or so people in this group (with no name, no structure, no formal means of communication) and that’s probably a quarter of the entire organisation that we had.

I should mention, as well, that the organisation itself still exists and many still work there. But this community exists for those who worked there in a fairly specific 12 year period and, as far as I know, the existence of our community is not sanctioned by the organisation, who take no role in it.

It shows that if you treat people right, just how much you can bind them to not just the organisation but to each other, and how long these ties might last for.

It shows that in that 12 year period we must have created the right feeling of family, the right amount of support and encouragement, the right levels of engagement, and the right employee experience, for people to still want and need this when they have left that organisation.

It also shows that none of us have been able to replace it elsewhere and still need to get that from this group of alumni. And that’s a shame for almost everyone concerned as well as for both the original organisation and wherever people have gone on to.

But what this shows more than anything is how powerful employee engagement can be. How important the employee experience is. The stories, the shared experiences and emotions, the sense of family, the mutual support. It can make or break an organisation, and can lead to it continuing to “exist” even long after it ought to have gone.

How do you create this in your organisations?

If you’d like to talk to me about how it worked in this example, get in touch.

Till next time…


PS in other news, the garage is almost finished and we are now actively planning the decorating that must follow, and planning a bathroom upgrade too…

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