Boomerang Employees: Rehiring Previous Employees is No Longer Taboo

Helene Cavalli Blog

In case you hadn’t heard, boomerangs are all the rage.

These are employees that leave an organization and then return some time later to a similar, different, or even more senior role. And while this was once considered a taboo hiring practice, an increasing number of organizations are opening their minds, and their arms, to returning former employees.

A landmark 2015 study on the boomerang phenomenon, produced by workforce management software company Kronos and, identified a changing mindset about rehiring boomerang employees. A survey of 1,800 human resource professionals found that despite having past policies expressly forbidding the hiring of former employees, three quarters of respondents said they would consider hiring back a former colleague.

The survey also identified a growing appetite among job seekers to return to former employers. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they would boomerang back to a previous employer under the right circumstances.

The inherent benefits of hiring a boomerang candidate are numerous. These are people with a deep institutional and cultural knowledge of their former employers. They are known quantities, which removes much of the anxiety that employers experience about whether new hires will be a good “fit.” That means quicker, more cost-effective onboarding and less disruption to existing staff.

For the individual, taking the path back to a former employer can be a huge advantage in career development. Having left one organization and gained more or broader experience, a boomerang employee can return to a more senior role with a former employer. It is definitely proving to be a path for upward mobility.

It is also important to note that in today’s talent marketplace, workers not only expect to move around from job to job more than ever before, they will make their decisions about where to go next based on a new and evolving set of priorities.

Recent studies show that employees put more of an emphasis on the quality of their job experience, not just the size of their paychecks. They want constant, constructive feedback and an opportunity to learn and experience a broader array of work challenges. Today’s talent also value  ethics, trust, and transparency more than ever before.

With all these issues in play, how can an organization position itself as a destination of choice for boomerang employees? As the trend towards rehiring former employees becomes stronger, so too do the best practices for ensuring an organization gets its most talented former employees to return to the fold. To achieve this goal, organizations need to do the following:

  • Support employees’ career development. One of the best ways to build and sustain a positive relationship with current and former employees is to make career development and growth opportunities available. Companies that support and enable their employees’ career ambitions are more likely to both keep and attract back great talent. And it doesn’t take much investment or effort to provide this support. There are a variety of self-serve career development and pathing solutions, such as LHH’s DevelopMe™ and Wayfind™ tools, that help employees and their managers define, develop, and enable employee career plans.
  • Treat employees well on the way out. Whether employees leave on their own or they were caught up in a restructuring or downsizing, how they are treated on the way out will determine whether or not they will return. All too often, employees that leave to pursue new opportunities are ignored, shunned, or made to feel guilty and disloyal. While it’s okay to express regret when an employee resigns, managers should also congratulate them and acknowledge the employee’s new career opportunity. And if employees are not leaving of their own volition, make sure they know why they are being let go and, when possible, try to point them in the direction of other opportunities within the same organization.  If this is not an option, provide career transition services well before their last day to give them the best chance of a landing new job as soon as possible. If departing employees feel supported by their former employer and get a new role quickly, they are less resentful and more likely to come back when needed.
  • Build and nurture an alumni network. It is much more difficult for an organization to attract and hire back former employees if there is no formal alumni network in place. Newsletters, networking events, and social media channels are very effective in allowing current and former employees to maintain contact with each other. Alumni networks also encourage former employees, even if they are not on the rebound, to recommend their former employers to potential new recruits. Participation in an alumni network is a clear sign of loyalty.
  • See alumni as a source of valuable ongoing feedback. Alumni can also be an important source of information and insight into the current state of a company’s culture. Alumni surveys can provide very meaningful insights from former employees on issues like organizational culture and values, work-life balance, the quality of senior management, compensation and benefits, and whether or not adequate career development was available. At LHH, we often conduct these surveys with our clients’ departing employees. In addition to insight, we produce an Alumni Promoter Score (APS), which is similar to an NPS score but measures Alumni Loyalty instead of Customer Loyalty. These surveys augment employee engagement surveys, providing a new source of frank and objective commentary about what changes to current conditions and culture would help drive higher engagement. If alumni have regrets about certain aspects of organizational culture and conditions, it could help identify gaps in current engagement strategies.
The stigma around rehiring former employees has clearly dissipated. Employers realize that rehiring a talented former employee can be a valuable and cost-effective recruitment strategy.

To become a destination of choice for boomerang employees, however, organizations must take the time to build the proper foundation of trust and loyalty with current and former employees. Otherwise, those boomerangs will never consider returning to the fold.

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