The Once and Future Employee: How Employers Benefit From Boomerang Employees

Imagine this. Your company needs a person with a specific skill set and you have to make the hiring decision. The person that you hire will be critical in helping put the organization on firm footing and a path for growth. There is a candidate who meets – even exceeds – the company’s criteria. But, the candidate left the company a decade earlier and has worked with competitors since that time. Would you hire this candidate?

In this case, you would be glad if you did. The person described in this situation was Steve Jobs, and the organization he returned to was Apple. Yes, Steve Jobs was a boomerang employee!

Who are Boomerang Employees?

A boomerang employee is an employee who has left an organization for any reason and then rejoins the company later. Welcoming employees who want to return to an organization is a relatively new change in the hiring landscape. Until recently, once an employee left a company there usually was no coming back. But, with a tightening labor market and companies competing to fill open positions for skilled employees, that mindset is changing.

A study conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos and showed that half of the HR professionals surveyed said their organizations previously held a policy against rehiring employees, even for employees who left on good terms. But 76% of those respondents said their companies are now more receptive to hiring boomerang employees. In fact, not only did 85% of HR professionals report receiving applications from former employees over the previous five years, but 40% said their companies hired about half of the former workers who applied.

Dave Almeda, the chief people officer at Kronos, a workforce management solutions software company – and himself a boomerang employee – identified four typical types of boomerang employees:

1. Traditional boomerangs: These employees work for a company a few years and leave for an opportunity elsewhere to develop new skills or to advance in their career. They may return to the company three to five years later with new skills and ideas, often at higher job levels and for higher pay.

2. Life event boomerangs: Employees who leave due to life events beyond their control, such as a spouse’s relocation or to care for a sick parent or raise a family. These employees may come back after a few months to a few years to work in a contractor capacity to help the company fill a specific need.

3. Planned or seasonal boomerangs: This group includes employees who are available for short periods at regular times. For example, students who work during summer and winter breaks, or adults who regularly vacation for extended periods in the same places. These boomerang employees often are found in retail and the hospitality industry during the busy holiday and vacation seasons.

4. Career-change boomerangs: Employees in this group likely have worked for their organizations for a number of years, and have developed an urge to try something different, to go in a new direction. They may wonder “if not now, when?” Often, after just a few weeks or months, these employees “come home,” having realized that for them the change was a mistake.

Pros and Cons

There are advantages to rehiring a former employee. The most obvious is that his or her work performance is known, as opposed to the many unknown qualities of other applicants. In addition, a boomerang employee:

  • Costs up to $20,000 less to recruit;
  • Needs less training due to familiarity with the company culture and processes;
  • Has gained new skills and perspective from working outside the organization; and
  • May boost morale by speaking well of the work culture compared to other companies.

But there can be downsides to bringing a former employee back into your organization too. If changes have been made in the organization since the employee left, he or she may want to stick to the old way of doing things. Similarly, if there were past workplace issues with former managers and co-workers, they could redevelop if those persons are still there.

Perhaps the biggest risk in hiring a boomerang employee is missing out on a new candidate who could be a better fit. Just because a person successfully worked for an organization before doesn’t automatically mean he or she is the best person for the job. For this reason, if an employer is willing to hire a former employee, that employee should still be required to go through the complete hiring and vetting process.

Making Boomerang Hiring Work

There are steps an employer can take to help make sure that hiring a boomerang employee will be a benefit for the organization.

The first and most important part of bringing in a boomerang employee starts when the employee first leaves the company. An employee’s offboarding experience – the exit interview, transfer of company badges and property and completion of benefit and financial transactions – are just as important as the onboarding process. How the process is handled can affect employees’ impressions of the company, and make them more or less willing to return.

To help make the ending experience a positive one, be sure to ask for suggestions for improvement in the exit interview. Also, let departing employees know that the company is open to their return and offer to provide a good reference. If the organization has an alumni association, invite the employee to join or to connect on social media.

When considering hiring a boomerang employee, don’t just hire anyone. Focus on rehiring high performers. Check with past managers and coworkers for feedback on the employee, as well as the employee’s other references. Be sure to consider all candidates for the position; there may be other promising applicants who could be a better fit.

Often, boomerang employees are returning to positions with more responsibilities, reflecting their increased skills and experience. Be sure to help position them for success by pointing out changes in the organization and staffing, as well as procedure and policies changes. Invite them to have conversations with their managers and coworkers to understand how things have changed and to bring them up to speed.

In the current environment of low unemployment and difficulty in hiring skilled labor, employers should consider whether hiring boomerang employees would work for them. After all, they could end up with another Steve Jobs.


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