Conventional wisdom says that if you love someone, you should let them go. The question in hiring is that if a valuable employee leaves, should you let them come back?
Amidst the turmoil of the Great Resignation and subsequent Great Reshuffle, employers are seeing a rise in “boomerang employees” returning to companies after having previously left, whether they had resigned to seek new pastures or were let go in a round of restructuring.
There are obvious benefits to hiring a candidate with a proven track record at your organization, such as their existing knowledge of your processes.
But is it safe to pick a returnee over an equally motivated new candidate, or will history end up repeating itself?
In this post, we tell you everything you need to know about boomerang employees – what they are, their reasons for returning, and the pros and cons of hiring them. Then, we share seven best practices for rehiring former employees.
Let’s get started.
Table of contents
- What is a boomerang employee?
- The pros and cons of rehiring former employees
- How to optimize the rehiring process for boomerang employees: 7 best practices
- ✅ Bring boomerang employees back into the fold with skills-based hiring
What is a boomerang employee?
A boomerang employee is someone who leaves an organization but later returns and is rehired, either for the same role or a different one.
An employee might choose to return to work after a long absence for many reasons, and it might not always be obvious from a glance at a candidate’s resume.
The Society For Human Resource Management identifies several common reasons people might become boomerang employees:
|Traditional||They work for a company for a few years but see opportunities to develop their skills elsewhere. They usually return to the original organization later on and for more pay.|
|Life event-related||They leave for a personal reason or life event outside their control, such as a spouse being relocated or caring for a loved one, but return when that event has passed.|
|Planned or seasonal||Boomeranging is always part of the plan. They might be a student working during summer break or an adult spending an extended period elsewhere.|
|Opportunistic||They leave for a new challenge or because they need to try a different career path but quickly realize it’s not for them.|
These are the classical categories. However, the shake-ups in the working world due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent Great Reshuffle may have created new scenarios that are more difficult to define.
About 4.2 million American workers quit their jobs in 2022, which makes up a significant pool of potential returning employees. LinkedIn data shows that of all new hires among companies on the platform in 2021, 4.5% were boomerang workers – up from 3.9% in 2019.
Post-pandemic, you might see people boomeranging back to your company after leaving because they:
- Discovered they prefer working from home and were looking for an employer who offers flexible working
- Expanded their side hustle by going into business for themselves (despite the pandemic’s hardships for many workers and the economic uncertainty it caused, it fueled a “startup frenzy”)
- Went back to school to formalize their education or retrain in a different career
Are boomerang employees commonplace in 2023?
You’ll see a lot of outlets out there trying to pass off boomerang employees as a new phenomenon. Don’t believe them. The Harvard Business Review was extolling the virtues of the boomerang employee in 2013, a full decade ago.
At just 4.5%, boomerang employees aren’t necessarily commonplace but are more common than in previous decades. This is probably due to the shift from long-term employee loyalty to the more frequent job-hopping practiced today, particularly by Millennials.
What’s changed significantly in the last year or so, then, is not so much the number of boomerang employees in the workforce but their negotiating power.
Research has shown that a quarter of boomerang employees were high performers before they left their old jobs, and when they return to their companies, it’s for 25% higher pay (on average) than what they were paid.
As well as getting paid more, boomerang employees frequently have more responsibility when they return to their old employers. For example, 40% of rehired managers were just individual contributors before they resigned previously.
The pros and cons of rehiring former employees
Now that you know what boomerang employees are and why so many HR leaders are talking about them, it’s time to discuss the factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to rehire one.
Here are the benefits and drawbacks of rehiring former employees who had quit previously.
The benefits of boomerang employees
We’ve mentioned that boomerang employees often return to a higher salary than when they left, often to more senior roles.
But why? What’s the benefit of hiring boomerang employees?
1. They already know your company
Retaining institutional knowledge is key to organizational health, and boomerang employees come with it built in.
Whatever knowledge and skills boomerang workers took with them when they left your workforce are sure to be brought back into the fold to share with new employees when they return. That combines with the next benefit to make a compelling package.
They bring updated skills, experiences, and connections with them
Not only do you get boomerang employees’ old skills back, but you also get the benefit of the new skills, experiences, and connections they picked up while they were away.
This could extend to bringing in new business. For instance, if a content writer left your agency to pursue a freelance career but returned because they missed the stability of a monthly paycheck, they bring back the additional skills they taught themselves while self-employed and may even introduce you to their roster of new customers.
2. They integrate into the team and culture more easily
One of the trickiest parts of any onboarding process is the cultural adjustment that all new hires go through. Boomerang employees have the advantage that they already know the lay of the land.
Even if it’s been years since they last worked at your organization, their familiarity with its values and processes can help them reassimilate. The data shows that Boomerang employees are more satisfied and committed than external hires.
3. They have a shorter ramp-up period
The last point’s benefit for you as a hiring manager cannot be overstated. You can move through your onboarding checklist faster because boomerang hires can leverage pre-existing:
This makes your onboarding process much more cost-effective, whether it’s being carried out in person or virtually.
There is a lower risk of making a bad hire (and swallowing the associated costs)
To replace an employee generally costs about one-third of their salary. That means replacing a worker with a $70,000 salary would cost over $23,000.
By shortening the ramp-up period, you’re already lowering your overall hiring costs, which means that even if the boomerang employee does leave again, less time and money was wasted than it might have been on a new misplaced hire.
However, a boomerang employee’s familiarity with your company means your overall risk of a mis-hire is lower when you follow best practices.
4. They might even be able to help you improve retention
Finally, a boomerang employee’s insight into the company’s limitations (which likely played a part in why they left in the first place) can help you better understand why employees choose to leave and, more importantly, what brings them back.
When used with the other best practices we outline below, this can help you sharpen your retention and rehiring strategies.
The drawbacks of boomerang employees
Okay, okay, it makes sense that hiring a boomerang employee has advantages. They’re a known quantity, unlike fresh applicants – but are they really as safe a bet as they seem?
It’s time to talk about the downsides of rehiring former employees.
1. They might not be the best fit for the position
When we talk about interviewer bias in hiring, we tend to focus on gender and racial bias. However, bias also comes into the picture when considering hiring a boomerang employee.
As we said above, boomerang employees seem like a safe bet because they have a proven track record at your organization. However, without adequate support, this could blind your hiring managers to the equal, or perhaps even greater, potential that fresh candidates bring to the role.
2. If the reason they left hasn’t been resolved, history could repeat itself
Just because a boomerang employee left your organization in the past doesn’t mean that they will definitely quit again. However, it’s worth having a frank conversation with them about the reasons they left in the first place.
If the situation hasn’t changed, history may repeat itself since some of the top reasons for quitting are easier to negotiate than others.
You can increase a boomerang employee’s pay, for example, but if they left due to a lack of flexibility and your company doesn’t have a hybrid office or flexible working plan, you could see them leave again very soon.
This is why listening to boomerang employees’ feedback is important – more on this later.
3. They might bring bad blood back into the organization
As seen above, over a third of people who quit their jobs last year cited a lack of respect from their workplace as a major reason for leaving.
If they were returning to their old roles, they would likely still be working closely with the people they had friction with before. If you have trouble resolving workplace conflict, bringing back anyone with a history of conflict can be a recipe for disaster.
4. Even if they fit the company culture, they might not add to it
Finally, remember that hiring isn’t just an opportunity to fill an open space in your team but to expand its potential.
Yes, a boomerang employee might have a proven “fit” with your company culture, but – especially if your company has changed direction since they last worked there – they might not bring in the new ideas or approach offered by a fresh candidate. In other words, they might not be a “culture add” candidate.
How to optimize the rehiring process for boomerang employees: 7 best practices
Clearly, there are both positives and negatives when it comes to rehiring boomerang employees. However, we believe that the negatives can be alleviated – if not eliminated – with the right hiring practices.
Here are seven ways to optimize your rehiring process to make the right decisions about boomerang employees.
Rehiring a boomerang employee and need quick answers? No problem. Here’s a summary of our tips.
|Tip for optimizing hiring for boomerang employees||How to apply it|
|1. Foster a positive, inclusive culture, even in a remote or hybrid environment||Ask employees what they need in times of crisis and supply it|
|2. Build a positive offboarding experience||Offer outplacement services to laid-off employees|
|3. Keep in touch after employees leave||Create an alumni newsletter to keep ex-employees connected|
|4. Use skills-based hiring to accurately assess boomerang candidates alongside new faces||Administer the same tests to new candidates and boomerang employees|
|5. Address their boomerang status during final interviews||Ask boomerang employees what has changed that makes them want to return|
|6. Don’t cut corners: Reboard boomerang employees||Ensure that boomerang employees are given the same onboarding process as new hires|
|7. Listen to feedback from all leavers – not just the ones you want to return||Conduct exit interviews to gather honest opinions|
1. Foster a positive, inclusive culture, even in a remote or hybrid environment
The most surefire way to optimize your rehiring process and keep top talent coming back to your organization even after they’ve left is to provide a genuinely positive experience while they work for you.
A cohesive culture can be created in any business, even if you operate under a remote or hybrid office model.
It’s about putting yourself in the place of your employees and making sure that:
- They know you’re invested in their individual growth
- They’re invested in your company’s mission and values
An example of these principles in action comes from the hybrid company ProofHub. They tackled the switch to remote working during the pandemic by asking every employee three questions:
- How can we make work more fun for you?
- If you were in our shoes, how would you deal with it?
- How can we set you up for greater success?
With one quick survey, they sent a message that they were putting employees first while also asking them to engage with the company’s overall mission. It made a big statement about the company’s priorities in a crisis and earned ProofHub a spot on Forbes’ 2021 list of the best employers.
Adopting a similar approach in your organization can help your current employees stay with you longer. But it’s more than that: It ensures that when they leave and experience less supportive environments, they are more likely to use your company as a benchmark and consider returning for future opportunities – and more likely to stay if they return to you.
Our 2022 State of Skills-Based Hiring Report found that over 90% of employers saw increased retention from using skills-based hiring.
2. Build a positive offboarding experience
It sounds counterintuitive, but the key to building an environment where employees feel supported when working is building one where they feel supported when quitting.
Let us explain:
Pretending that it’s “‘til death do us part” with every employee is neither realistic nor helpful. It sets up a dynamic of false optimism between you and your employees. It makes them less likely to discuss their true goals or intentions with you, which could leave you blindsided and understaffed when they eventually leave.
Instead, the Harvard Business Review suggests that companies should begin their offboarding programs the moment an employee is hired.
Managers should be open with their employees, understanding that they probably won’t be with the company until they retire. They should also leverage their organization’s resources to help the employee build their career inside and outside the business structure.
These conversations should continue throughout the worker’s employment. This empowers workers to speak up when they want to make a career shift and brings attention to redeployment opportunities.
Building realistic expectations for an employee’s tenure also makes succession planning easier. Knowing for certain how long an employee expects to remain with the company gives you additional time to upskill the next employee to fill that role.
You should also offer outplacement services to support employees when you lay them off. This puts your money where your mouth is regarding career support and boosts your reputation as a caring employer.
3. Keep in touch after employees leave
One of the best ways to create a positive offboarding experience for employees is to keep in touch after they leave.
The Harvard Business Review article cited above recommends creating an active alumni network for former employees to stay connected with each other and your senior leadership after they’ve left.
Examples of companies with successful alumni organizations include the Boston Consulting Group, Microsoft, and Deloitte. They use numerous channels to keep these networks active, including:
- Social media, such as LinkedIn groups
- Dedicated alumni websites
- Company newsletters
Deloitte even offers its own alumni platform, where former employees can browse the latest business insights or search for fellow alums to fill open positions in their teams.
This is a win-win situation.
Not only do you stay front-of-mind for your top talent when they consider their next career move, but it gives you an extensive list of candidates to pick from when a new role opens up.
4. Use skills-based hiring to accurately assess boomerang candidates alongside new faces
When hiring and rehiring boomerang employees, the key component is to take a skills-based approach.
This helps you eliminate bias and ensure that when a past employee re-enters the fold, it’s because they’re the best – and not just the most obvious – candidate for the job.
When screening candidates, they should all take the same pre-interview assessments to evaluate that they have the required skills for the role and help the hiring managers accurately compare their competency in each area.
At the interview stages, interviewers should adopt a structured interview technique. They should ask every candidate the same questions in the same order and evaluate the answers by the same pre-agreed criteria.
Following these best practices ensures that by the time you get to the final round of the recruitment process, you can be certain that your boomerang candidates are there because they are qualified for the role and not due to bias in your hiring process.
5. Address their boomerang status during final interviews
As we’ve just mentioned, you should evaluate potential boomerang employees using the same tools and criteria as new candidates for the first several rounds of the recruitment process.
Structured interviews are great at this information-gathering stage; it’s when you get down to the final stage interviews and branch out into semi-structured or unstructured conversations that you can really dig into their boomerang status and what it means for how they would approach the role.
As we said above, there are huge costs to making a mis-hire, and if nothing seems to have changed since they last worked for you, they need to have a good reason why things will turn out differently this time. Make sure to ask them:
- What’s changed since you last employed them, and why do they want to come back
- If they are hoping to return to the same role they had previously, what their outlook is for their progression at your company, and whether they could see themselves leaving again
- If they are returning to a different role or a more senior position, what they are bringing to this position that they didn’t have when they previously worked for you
6. Don’t cut corners: Reboard boomerang employees
Let’s say you decide your boomerang candidate is the right person for the role, and they accept your offer of employment.
Many companies understandably want to fast-track boomerang employees into their new (or re-joined) roles. After all, their existing understanding of the organization is partly what’s gotten them the job, right?
But you’re making a big mistake if you don’t offer proper onboarding to boomerang employees (otherwise known as reboarding). Despite their familiarity with the business, you should still give them all the onboarding support you would normally give a new hire, though explain that it’s just to ensure you don’t miss anything.
When doing this, you should draw particular attention to:
- Security protocols and data protection processes as these are key priorities and may be easy to forget
- Any changes that have come into effect since they left, including key personnel and processes
- The company culture and any wellbeing initiatives you have
- Their targets and how these will be tracked in their new role
7. Listen to feedback from all leavers – not just the ones you want to return
Finally, the best way to ensure you are an attractive workplace to return to is to listen to feedback from all leavers, including those you don’t expect to return.
You can use:
- A questionnaire sent to the employee upon receipt of their notice
- Written feedback on your offboarding process
- An exit interview either at the end of employment or sometime after the employee has left the company
Resolving these issues can incentivize top talent to return to you, reduce the chances of a second resignation if they do come back, and even help reduce overall employee turnover.
Bring boomerang employees back into the fold with skills-based hiring
Now you know the benefits returning talent can bring to your business, and you have the confidence in your decisions that comes with skills-based hiring.
If you’re ready to optimize your hiring process for boomerang employees, read our guide on how to adopt skills-based hiring practices.
If you need a little more convincing about the validity of skills testing, look at our post about why you should start the hiring process with pre-employment exams.
Or, if you’re already on board and want to evaluate what a boomerang employee could add to your company culture, take a look at our Culture Add test.
- Maurer, Roy. (September 23, 2015). “Attitude on Rehiring Boomerang Workers Changing”. SHRM. Retrieved February 16, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/rehiring-boomerang-workers.aspx
- Nguyen, Kelli. “Hello? It’s your old boss calling”. (2022). LinkedIn. Retrieved February 16, 2023. https://www.linkedin.com/news/story/hello-its-your-old-boss-calling-5205836/
- Erickson, Tammy. (December 19, 2013). “Never Say Goodbye to a Great Employee”. HBR. Retrieved February 16, 2023. https://hbr.org/2013/12/never-say-goodbye-to-a-great-employee