If your company was hit by the "Great Resignation" wave, then hear this out: you are not the only one! And you are not the only one looking for solutions to surf it, either. Here's a short article explaining the whys and hows to help you land it safely while considering, amongst others, the positive impact of hiring back former employees.
What Is a Boomerang Employee?
It’s not a secret anymore that a new hiring trend is the surge of these “boomerang workers”— people who quit their jobs and are now returning to the company. According to LinkedIn data, 4.5% of all new hires among companies on LinkedIn in 2021 were boomerang workers, compared to 3.9% in 2019.
A boomerang employee is an employee who leaves a company they work for, but then later returns to work for the company once again, for different reasons. These workers present a potentially untapped pool of candidates as companies continue to struggle to fill open roles and have become far more numerous than in years past. But why did they leave in the first place?
Boomerang Employees and the Great Resignation
Usually, boomerang employees only left in the first place due to unexpected circumstances, like having to move away, or receiving a surprise job offer in something completely new that they couldn’t turn down.
But the pandemic has compelled many people to reassess their lives and work values. Many studies showed that what the pandemic did was add a trend that was already there many years before. The illness, the death, and the frailty of life brought about by COVID-19 pushed people to reconsider the role of work in their lives. What were the triggers?
- The pursuit of a better work-life balance "forced" many employees into re-prioritizing what matters most in their lives. According to Harvard Business Review, this shift in perspective is likely to have motivated some workers to quit, especially those who were burning out in demanding jobs that intruded on their ability to care for their families.
- Employees are more often than before in the search of meaningful, fulfilling jobs that allow them to give their best at work while getting satisfaction out of it.
- Burnout - a state implying fatigue, depression, and a deep lack of motivation - has occurred notably among frontline workers, parents and caregivers, and organizational leaders. Turnover is a natural consequence. A 2021 Women in theWorkplace report found that one in three women are considering leaving the workforce, switching jobs, or cutting work hours. Burnout is strongly related to a big amount of work that needs to be delivered on short deadlines requiring late work hours and no time to catch a breath.
In March 2022, a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs, according to the Labor Department, many of whom left to seek higher pay, better benefits and flexibility or new career opportunities.
Nevertheless, people who changed jobs before and during Covid might realize they miss the experiences and opportunities a former employer provided them. Some workers might be dissatisfied with how a new employer treated employees during the pandemic. Others might have gotten swept up in the Great Resignation, changing jobs a little too quickly, and now regret the decision.
How can you cover the employee shortage if not by considering rehiring former employees who left the company on good terms, and who’ve been away from the company for long enough that they’ve gained new skills and experiences they can bring back to the organization?
The Pros of Hiring Boomerang Employees
Here are more pros for hiring boomerang employees:
They Are Quicker to Onboard
Employees who are rejoining an organization will become productive more quickly than other new hires since they already know the ins and outs of your business. They’ll also require less training and mentoring from managers and fellow team members. Moreover, the boomerang’s foundational understanding of the social systems that underpin the organization gives them a clear advantage over new hires who have to learn these nuances from the ground up.
They Are Familiar With the Company’s Culture and Working Environment
While no organization plans for a valuable employee to exit, it can be incredibly beneficial — for the company as well as for the employee — when they return after some time away. These returning employees already know the organization’s ins, outs, and nuances, and understand the employer’s expectations and company culture.
They Bring a Fresh Outlook to Your Business
Former employees can provide valuable insights, especially if they worked for a competitor during their time away. They might also be able to offer a helpful perspective on how your organization has evolved and whether the changes they’ve noted are trending in a positive direction.
They Are More Loyal and High-Performing
Boomerang employees are typically more satisfied and more committed than external hires. Because of this, they also perform at higher levels than their peers, secure better performance reviews compared with new hires, and are more likely to be promoted than non-boomerang peers. “Rather than being a flight risk, these ‘rebound’ employees have proven to be more committed to the organization the second time around.” Typically once they come back, they are more committed than they were before and turn out to be your best, long-term employees.
They Help You Cut Down on Your Hiring Costs
It’s expensive to attract, onboard, and retain talent. It costs about $30,000 to $45,000, for example, to replace an employee earning $60,000 per year. It is estimated that you can save up to $20,000 per one boomerang employee, depending on salary. Because rehired employees already know what they’re doing, rehiring cuts down on training costs and decreases the time it takes for “new” employees to be fully productive within the organization. They know the company and the company knows them, so the hiring decision is made with much more information than what is captured on a resume.
The Cons of Hiring Boomerang Employees
As life proves it, where there are pros, there are cons too. One of the biggest risks of rehiring boomerang employees is that they could leave the organization again, which is why you should consider these aspects before boomerang hiring.
Your Boomerang Employee Left Under Negative Circumstances
Even if an employee wasn’t fired, avoid rehiring someone if his coworkers or manager reported that they were difficult to work with. Try to find out whether he’s leaving their current employer for the same reasons, or your overall employee engagement rate might suffer.
Your Boomerang Worker Can’t Explain Why He Is Returning
This could mean that they’re taking advantage of the hot job market and looking for a bigger salary. This might be a warning sign that they’ll leave again if a better opportunity presents itself.
Your Former Employee Wasn’t a Top Performer
It depends on how urgent it is to fill a role, but don’t fool yourself by the perks of hiring a boomerang employee if they weren’t an asset, to begin with. You might want to invest in training a new hire who offers a stronger skill set.
Your Boomerang Employee Stayed Away From The Company for a While
The benefits of rehiring a former employee will diminish if they’ve been away for a few years, especially if your organization has evolved significantly during that time.
Rehiring Boomerang Employees Might End up With Them Leaving the Organization, Again
Setting up a boomerang hire for success requires some extra planning. Both employee and employer must be precisely clear on what’s different this time around, and both must accept mutual growth and change.
Job Interview Questions for Boomerang Employees
Although there are risks associated with rehiring former employees, with some due diligence your company can benefit enormously from welcoming them back. To avoid unpleasant situations, you can start preparing a thorough set of interview questions specifically geared toward boomerang employees:
- On what terms did you previously leave?
- Are there previous reasons now being addressed with the new role (or they will continue to be a flight risk)?
- What have you been doing since you left the company?
- How have you increased your skill set and experience? Examples.
- Are there any unresolved issues with the company or former coworkers?
- What did you like/dislike about the company?
- Why would you want to come back at this time?
- What was your relationship with your manager/teammates?
How Can HR Leaders Ensure a Successful Onboarding of Boomerang Employees?
Before rehiring a boomerang employee, consider these pieces of advice:
Set Crystal-Clear Expectations
When rejoining the company, a rehire will expect the same processes, organizational structure, pay rates, and the like to remain the same — but expectations that go unmet can drive dissatisfaction. Encourage the former employee to ask questions about the salary, company culture, and any changes that have happened since they left. Be thorough and explicit in explaining any improvements made or changes enacted since the boomerang’s departure.
Don’t Skip Onboarding
Even though it may feel like the employee is already well versed in the organization, treat him like a new hire! Treating the employee like they are new is a great way to reground them with your employment brand and get them excited about what has changed. Poor onboarding raises the risk of losing the employee again, so tailor the experience to their needs, and personalize the process to identify and address knowledge gaps.
Prepare the Rest of the Team Members, Before a Boomerang’s Re-Arrival
For example, suppose a boomerang employee returns to a significantly different team structure. In that case, it’s crucial to understand how they will react to a new dynamic rather than sticking to “the way things were done before.” Likewise, if they are returning to a similar team, determine whether there are any previous relationship issues that need to be addressed. Depending on the circumstances, a boomerang may hold grudges against other employees or managers they previously worked with, which can harm team morale.
So, Should You Rehire a Former Employee?
Yes, you should definitely consider tapping into the silent, reliable, resourceful pool of boomerang employees. But don’t expect workers to just come knocking at your door — you’ll need to step out of your old, traditional recruiting ways. After all, people have lots of options in today’s employee-driven job market. And 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 that it's best to move on.
So, if your company is struggling to find skilled, talented people to fill in open vacancies — like many organizations are — maybe now is the time to focus your recruitment efforts on this untapped talent pool. You never know what might come of it, if you leave your doors open.