27 September 2023

Considering the boomerang employee

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Dan Schawbel* discusses the pros and cons of rehiring a former employee who was away for a while and wants to return.

Although millions of people worldwide continue to leave the workforce each month, things may not be exactly as they seem.

New research reveals that many workers are re-entering the workforce, often not long after their departure.

Some are even returning to their former employers in a career move that might seem surprising at first glance.

Typically, these ‘boomerang employees’, as they’re called, left their organisation under positive circumstances, but for various reasons eventually decided to re-join,

Some may have quit for caring reasons that no longer apply.

Others may have wanted to explore a different career path, but find that it isn’t the right fit for them.

Some employees may simply have discovered that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

New research from technology company, UKG finds that 43 per cent of people who quit their jobs during the pandemic now admit they were actually better off at their old job.

The concept of returning to a former employer is nothing new.

In 2015, my company partnered with UKG on a similar study, and discovered that nearly 40 per cent of workers would consider going back to a company where they once worked.

However, 80 per cent said their former employers didn’t have a strategy in place to encourage them to return.

Not much has changed since then.

In fact, most organisations still aren’t doing enough to keep track of their former employees or maintain relationships with them.

This could be a critical misstep as they scramble to fill vacancies and stay afloat.

Employers could also be missing out on some of the notable benefits that come with rehiring former employees — more cost-effective recruiting and on-boarding and better long-term performance.

There are several benefits of welcoming former workers back to your organisation.

It costs less to recruit them

Hiring boomerang workers saves employers between one-third and two-thirds on recruiting costs.

The on-boarding process is more efficient

Employees who are re-joining an organisation will become productive more quickly since they already know the ins and outs of the business.

They’ll also require less training and mentoring from managers and fellow team members.

They’re more productive and loyal

Even after the initial on-boarding period, boomerang employees are more satisfied and committed than new hires.

One study of 13,000 employees found that returning team members were nearly always higher performers than new hires.

They were also far more likely to receive a promotion.

They already know your culture

If an employee chooses to come back to your organisation, it’s a sign they were a good fit with your culture.

If they end up working with the same team members, everyone will have less anxiety about getting to know a new person and what they’re like to work with.

They can bring a fresh outlook to your business

Former employees can provide valuable insights, especially if they worked for a similar organisation during their time away.

They might also be able to offer a helpful perspective on how your organisation has evolved, and whether these changes are trending in a positive direction.

So, hiring a former employee can offer many benefits, but keep an eye out for these red flags when evaluating a potential candidate.

They left under negative circumstances

Even if an employee wasn’t technically ‘fired’, avoid rehiring someone if their co-workers or manager reported they were difficult to work with.

It’s also a good idea to find out why they’re leaving their current employer, for the same reasons.

They can’t articulate why they’re returning

This could mean they’re just looking for a better salary, taking advantage of the hot job market.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it might be a warning sign that they’ll leave again if a better opportunity presents itself.

They weren’t a top performer

Don’t let the perks of hiring a boomerang employee sway you to bring them back if they weren’t an asset to begin with.

In the long-run, it’s wiser to invest in training a new hire who offers a stronger skillset.

They’ve been away for some time

While this isn’t a red flag per se, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re weighing other candidates for a role.

The benefits of rehiring a former employee will diminish if they’ve been away for a few years, especially if your organisation has evolved significantly during that time.

Although there are risks associated with rehiring former employees, with some due diligence your organisation can benefit enormously from welcoming them back.

However, don’t expect workers to just come knocking at your door — you’ll need to step up your efforts when it comes to recruiting from your alumni network.

After all, people have lots of options in today’s employee-driven job market.

If their previous employer isn’t actively trying to maintain a relationship with them, they may feel uncertain about whether they’d be welcomed back and decide it’s best to stay away.

So if your organisation is grappling with a talent shortage, maybe now is the time to focus your recruitment efforts on this untapped talent pool.

You never know what might come of it.

*Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future.

This article is part of his Workplace Intelligence Weekly series.

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