Organizations are seeing the value of welcoming former employees into the fold.
By Christa Elliott
It’s always difficult to watch an employee move on to a different company and opportunity, but thanks to a new trend in job seeking and hiring, the dreaded resignation letter isn’t always a final goodbye. “Boomerang employees”—workers who leave their job, only to return to their former employer after subsequent roles—have become a worker classification all their own.
Who are these boomerang employees? Some are retirees who choose to return to work for financial reasons or because the retired life doesn’t suit them. Others are younger workers who leave their organization in search of marketable skills and then return once they have enough experience for a more senior role. On the whole, the trend indicates a growing desire among employees for professional development and learning opportunities at work. More and more, if employees aren’t finding these opportunities at their current company, they have no problem seeking them elsewhere.
“I am seeing a trend within the workforce around wanting to continuously learn and do new things. This desire to continuously learn started with the younger employees but I am seeing it spill over to older employees, too,” says Penny Burnett, global talent acquisition leader for Equifax Inc. “They are not leaving Equifax because they don’t like working here, they are leaving to learn something new, [and] when they have the opportunity to learn something new at Equifax, they will consider coming back.”
Jeremy Broome, head of HR for Asia Pacific at Deutsche Bank, agrees and adds that there are other reasons for a younger employee to leave and return. According to Broome, boomerang workers usually leave a workplace for one of four reasons: career development; financial reasons; people; or personal reasons (such as life stage).
“In the case of the first two, employees may feel that they have plateaued in their progression, and a move to another organization can be an accelerator. A number of people move due to the people they work for—either they want to join a former manager, or leave a current one. In the case of life stage, such as having a family, even while organizations like ours aim to be sufficiently flexible, it sometimes just doesn’t work.”
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their initial departure, however, many employers have already experienced the benefits of rehiring, proving that sometimes a fresh face can present more challenges. In fact, the decision to return is increasingly met with open arms instead of raised eyebrows. A 2015 study from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. and WorkplaceTrends.com found that although nearly half of HR professionals report their organization once had a blanket policy against rehiring former employees, 76 percent say they are now more accepting of rehiring employees than in the past.
“’Boomerang employees’ are just a part of the talent in the market,” Broome says. “For us, there is a diverse and exciting talent pool with a wide range of knowledge and skill sets. Former employees are a part of that talent pool, and come with a unique insight into our organization. Former employees have a huge advantage should they choose to return, in that they know the culture of the organization, the people, and are able to quickly navigate a complex environment.”
Less Training and Onboarding
One of the most obvious benefits to hiring a former employee is the cost and time saved on training and onboarding. According to the Association for Talent Development’s 2016 State of the Industry Report, employees averaged 33.5 hours of training in 2015, compared with 32.4 hours in 2014. The report also found that the average cost per learning hour in 2015 was $82.
It’s easy to see how even just a few hours saved on training can make an impact on the bottom line, especially for smaller organizations. Even in situations in which the returning employee takes on a completely new role, less time and fewer resources will be spent acquainting the employee with company policies and procedures; the employee will be able to jump into their daily job functions sooner; and the workflow of the rest of the office will not be interrupted as dramatically.
In order to help boomerang employees settle back in, Kim Heintz, executive vice president of HR for iHeartMedia, stresses that onboarding should be part of the process.
“If the boomerang has been gone for less than one year and is returning to the same location, the onboarding may be expedited but should not be eliminated,” she says. “Because updates to policies and procedures happen continually, it is best to touch base on all of the relevant areas. The manager should also have a ‘reentry’ interview and ask questions that result in better communication.”
The reentry interview should include questions about why the employee chose to leave, how the employer can improve their experience this time around, and what their long-term career goals are. As for employees that have been away longer than a year, Heintz suggests that they go through a similar—but not identical—onboarding process to a new hire.
In all cases, however, the employee should be shown respect for their previous service to the company.
“The approach should be that of re-introduction in delivering a ‘welcome back’ approach to onboarding,” says Tricia Lavender, talent attraction manager for AccentCare. “A traditional new-hire approach can disvalue their prior time vested in the company and create a feeling of dissatisfaction.”
Connected to Culture
In the current job market, company culture is king, and organizations need hires who will represent and fit into the culture that they have created. Boomerang employees are sometimes uniquely suited to the task because they have already been deemed a good cultural fit or, in some cases, have contributed to the current workplace culture and made it into what it is today.
“The former employee knows and understands the business, the company culture, and what is takes to succeed in our work environment. In addition, the alumnus will have grown their network and is a good source of referrals,” Burnett says.
Through networking, boomerang employees can actually enhance business opportunities and help their employer succeed in new markets. They also have strong potential to become an organization’s best employer-brand ambassadors.
Bringing New Value
Boomerang employees not only acclimate well and offer expanded social networks, but they also bring the added value of new skills to their position. Even they were obtained elsewhere, managerial experience, technical skills, and other professional assets can help a trusted employee do better work for the organization.
Equally important is the fresh perspective that a boomerang employee can bring after spending time outside of the company.
“With boomerang employees, there is the possibility that employee could gain experiences externally that they couldn’t obtain internally. They also have another point of reference and knowledge of another way of doing things, which can often be valuable,” says Andrew Bartlow, vice president of HR for Colony Starwood Homes.
Risks of Returns
None of this is to say that boomerang employees don’t come with their own set of risks. Although rehiring can save employers time and money while preventing disruption to the workflow, the decision to rehire will depend on the organization’s vision and long-term goals—not to mention the employee’s reason for originally leaving.
If an organization is satisfied with their current culture, rehired talent can be a valuable resource. But, if the company is currently undergoing or has recently undergone cultural transformation, the former employee may no longer be a good fit for the new culture. Changes in technology can also reshape long-standing roles within an organization, necessitating to new skill sets or capabilities that may not have been necessary in the past.
In all cases, it is important for organizations to consider all of the particulars of the vacancy and of the boomerang applicant before making a hiring decision.