Retention, Eventually? Boomerang Employees Are Coming Back
The combination of COVID and the Great Resignation has created many unique challenges for both employees and employers. In the wake of these societal and labor disruptions, many job seekers and recruiters are preparing for their futures by turning to past professional relationships.
Here’s what HR and employers need to know about “boomerang employees,” including how they can help with recruiting and retention.
What is a Boomerang Employee?
“Boomerang employee” refers to any worker who left an organization and is later rehired—or, comes back, like a boomerang.
Their original departure could have been due to circumstances beyond their control—like pandemic layoffs or caring for a family member—or it could have been a voluntary resignation—like moving to a different city, retiring from the workforce, or seeking what seemed like a better opportunity at the time. But regardless of the reason for the initial separation, both the employer and the employee now see a new and better reason to revisit that employment relationship.
In the past, employees and employers were more likely to part ways for good—out of sight, out of mind. More and more, however, professionals are casually keeping in touch through LinkedIn and similar networks, keeping their lines of communication, and their options, open.
Employees often sought out former employers prior to the pandemic and the Great Resignation, but with the current labor shortage, employers are just as likely to seek out former employees who were reliable high performers.
In fact, Anthony Klotz—the Texas A&M professor who coined the term “Great Resignation”—told Wired recently that he believes this trend will continue for the next five years:
Human beings are trying to figure out what they want to do post pandemic, and lots of us want to try things, but we're not sure if it's the right thing…. At some point they will realize, “I’m just really glad I took that time off but now I’m ready to re-enter the workforce.”
When is a Boomerang Hire a Bad Idea?
There are many benefits to rehiring former employees, which we’ll cover in a moment. But employers should still consider the circumstances under which a former employee left their organization before offering them their old job back—or even a better position.
It’s in no party’s interest to burn bridges when you part ways, but when emotions and the stakes are so high, it still happens more often than you’d like.
If a former employee left abruptly, dramatically, and inconsiderately, they’ve likely given you little reason to expect a better experience the second time around. Their return could even lead to resentment, frustration, and even resignations—which, of course, is the problem you’re usually trying to resolve by hiring in the first place.
From onboarding onward, it’s important to teach employees how to leave with grace, especially since a boomerang hire can be so mutually beneficial.
How Boomerang Employees Help with Recruiting
Assuming they left with grace, boomerang hires can be a boon for recruitment. Here are three reasons why:
- Boomerang Employees Save Employers Time
Recruiters know how time-consuming it is to source, screen, and interview multiple candidates with no guarantee of how far they’ll get in the hiring process—or how well they’ll fit into the role specifically or with the organization more generally. Boomerang hires are already more familiar with the employer, and employers are already more familiar with them. That means recruiters can save time weeding out a lot of other candidates that may ultimately lead to dead ends.
- Boomerang Employees Save Employers Money
Saving time in recruiting, hiring, and onboarding also means saving money in productivity. Boomerang hires can usually hit the ground running, cutting down on the time lost when looking for a replacement and the cost of getting a new hire up to speed.
- Boomerang Employees Spare Employers Risk
As you can expect, recruiters focus more on asking top talent to return rather than mediocre performers, which means there’s less risk of them disappointing in the role or disappearing from the job. New hires are inherently more risky. Given the disruptive labor market lately, a safe bet can go a long way in rebuilding your workforce.
How Boomerang Employees Help with Retention
The benefits of recruiting former employees may be more obvious, but boomerang hires can also improve retention, which may seem counterintuitive since they’ve left once already.
More often than not, returning employees know exactly what they’re returning to and have appropriate expectations for their employer. If they originally left for higher pay, they’re likely coming back for better compensation.
Boomerang employees also already know who they’ll be working with and how well they’ll get along. Their return can even underscore company loyalty for employees who haven’t left in the intervening years. Similarly, they are more likely to fit in with the existing company culture—if not, why are you inviting them back?
Boomerang employment can be mutually beneficial, and in the current labor market, one of the best ways to keep employees may require hiring them back.
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