Employers are competing in the war for talent, and the battle is fierce. Savvy companies know the importance of defining or creating an employment brand to help attract and retain top talent. An authentic and properly managed employment brand allows a company to achieve outstanding business results through people.

Many companies measure the strength of their brand management through a combination of recruiting metrics like time to fill, cost per hire, referral rates, retention rates and even employee feedback from new hire surveys. But I believe one of the strongest indicators of a company’s employment brand is not measured in recruiting process efficiencies, but by exit data. It is not gauged by how people are treated on the way into the organization, but how they’re treated on the way out. I call it The Ex Factor.

A Love Story

The employment relationship is a lot like dating. Like most great love stories, it starts with a spark. For the sake of this story, that spark ignites via an online relationship. One where interested candidates apply for positions that are advertised, and employers view online profiles or resumes. Assuming no one swipes left, the interview (dating) process begins.

The candidate and their prospective employer each try to put their best foot forward and impress one another. There’s the “first date” interview, the “second date” interview, and, if both are really lucky, the third date results in a long-term commitment – the offer package – the bright sparkly ring. Of course, because this is a love story, the proposal is accepted.

And for a while, things seem great. They’re in love. Each side enjoys the give and take of the relationship. It’s mutually beneficial, and things are good. They bask in the glow of success and plan for the future.

But like in many relationships, things get comfortable – sometimes too comfortable. The honeymoon often ends too soon. One or both sides may stop trying to impress the other, and they begin to take one another for granted. They stop communicating – about the present, about the future, and someone loses interest.

The Break-Up

Sometimes things just don’t work out. Someone decides it’s time to move on. If it’s the employee’s choice, the company may be shocked to the point it feigns ignorance, indifference, or perhaps it even grasps at straws and begs the employee to stay. But it’s the classic case of too little, too late. So it turns a blind eye to what it should have seen coming, and it points fingers. Saying things like, “He wasn’t that great anyway,” or “There are other fish in the sea.”

If it’s the company’s choice, it feels bad. It gives the old “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. And it asks the employee to leave often with little, if any, notice or pay. And he leaves. Ashamed, embarrassed, and hurt. And he tells people.

Both of these examples assume a lack of communication and demonstrate a lack of respect, a lack of commitment, and a lack of compassion. Whether it’s the employee’s choice to terminate the relationship or the company’s, how someone is treated on the way out of the organization is the true indicator of a company’s employment brand.

Something to Remember

Throughout my career as an HR professional, I’ve been involved in more terminations than I’d care to admit, and I’ve conducted hundreds of exit interviews. And yet, the people who have walked out my office door are some of the best brand ambassadors I’ve known. How is that possible?

It’s simple. I focus on the Ex Factor. Here’s what I ask managers to remember:

At the end of the day, every person who has ever lost (or quit) their job has to go home and tell someone what happened. It may be a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor, a dog, a cat, the local bartender – someone. And if he or she can say that the company treated him or her well and with respect, that is what will be remembered and will be shared.

I once heard that people will share a great customer service experience with between 1 and 3 people, but a bad experience with up to 7. In this social media world, those experiences can go viral in a nanosecond. Although the employment relationship may have ended, your connection (unlike that diamond) is forever.

Your former employees are going to talk about their experience with your company. And they will speak positively (or not). They may refer clients (or not) and may refer employees (or not). And they may want to return someday (or not). You can influence the Ex Factor, and it can be powerful.

What are your brand ambassadors saying about your organization? What is your Ex Factor? If you don’t know, now is probably a good time to find out. You can begin by checking Glassdoor for feedback. Other people are.