Laurie loved working. She loved her job. She envisioned working full-time until the day she was forced to retire. She always thought she would continue to work full-time even after she had children. She didn’t entertain the idea of leaving and becoming a stay-at-home mom. She had her first baby, and returned to work as planned. But, about a year later, something began to tug at her and she began to think about quitting work. She began wondering whether she would regret not having these years at home with her baby. Then she discovered she was pregnant with her second child. Still, she continued to work because she enjoyed the challenges of her job. Ultimately, she found the competing pressures to be too much. She knew something needed to change. Her company offered her a few options. “Work part-time,” they said! “We will flex your schedule,” they offered. “Take leave of absence for 90 days,” they suggested. While Laurie appreciated those offers, she knew that wouldn’t solve her concerns. For starters, given her personality, working “part-time” would still be equivalent to full-time for so many others except now she would be making a part-time salary. Taking 90-days off might provide for a nice break, but this wasn’t about taking a short break. This was about taking a few years off to focus on raising her children. Laurie resigned from the position she loved at the company she admired so much. Four years later, Laurie was ready to return to work full-time and she began her job search.

Employers are missing a huge opportunity! They are missing the opportunity to reduce hiring costs, the opportunity to minimize the cost of attrition, the opportunity to lower training and onboarding expenditures, and the opportunity to build increased employee loyalty … and the investment to make all of this happen is minimal.

Women continue to leave the workforce at a faster rate than men. Statistics support this, and anecdotal evidence is abundant: women frequently take a few years off, particularly after their children are born. They “off-ramp” for a few years, but many ultimately decide to “opt-back-in.” This isn’t a news flash. Much has been written about this over the years.

Employers are missing the boat when it comes to staying connected to this labor pool. Here’s what I have seen. Companies think that if they offer more flexible options while these women are still employed, that they will opt not to leave. We have seen companies offer flex-time schedules, work-share options, work from home options, part-time schedules, etc. For some women, this kind of flexibility is all they need or desire, and that’s awesome.

But, for many women, it’s more than flexibility that they are seeking; rather, it’s a complete abstinence from work for a period of time. For most women this seems to be a period of three to seven years. Ultimately, many of these women decide they are ready to rejoin the workforce. Stepping back in, however, can often be challenging, and this is where employers are missing the boat.

What if employers kept connected to this group, and in fact, what if these companies continued to make a small investment in this group while they were “unemployed?” Would it be worth it? Absolutely.

Consider this: Company Y has an open position. They have the hiring expenses associated with searching for the perfectly qualified applicant. This takes times. It could involve the services of a recruiter. Then there are the costs associated with onboarding this individual and having them soak up not only the tactical knowledge associated with how to do the job, but also the more important culture-fit knowledge of how to get things done within this organization. This takes more time. Time equals money. Not all hires are the right hires. It could take a few tries to get it right. More time. More money. You get my point.

Instead, what if the hiring managers knew someone who had already worked in their environment, who knew the culture, the players, the technology, the business, and who was a “known,” not an “unknown.” Might it not make more sense to bring this person back into the organization?

Here is what I envision. Without requiring a tremendous investment (in people or money), companies can do more to stay connected with the women (frankly, both men and women) who leave. There is so much that can be done simply with technology. Create a distribution to share current industry and insider knowledge to keep the skills sharp. Create an online group to keep the network strong. Make it more personal. Assign each person who leaves a “connection point” back into the organization and make sure they touch base casually a few times a year. Add value. What if your company invited everyone who had left back to a lunch-and-learn once or twice a year? What if you invited a relevant speaker so it was valuable to them? It would be a huge hit, and the payoff would be even more extraordinary. It would build loyalty, drive connection, and yield potentially big payoffs. When these talented individuals inevitably decide it’s time to opt back in, where do you think they would make their first call?

Many women and men who are reigniting their job search feel as if they are starting at square one. There’s no need. Had they stayed connected to their prior company, stayed networked, and stayed abreast of the latest developments, it might make their re-entry that much easier (and as already discussed, certainly a win for the employer as well).

I’m curious. What do you think? What can your firm do to stay connected to valued employees who choose to leave? What best practices have you seen?