Talent AcquisitionTalent Management

The Talent Report: Opening the Door to Boomerang Employees

This valuable set of talent requires different attraction strategies.

Now that the dust has settled from The Great Resignation, many employees are having second thoughts: 80% of employees who left their jobs during this period now regret it. 

From an HR perspective, bringing these former employees back into the fold can be tremendously valuable. Boomerang employees understand the company mission, business goals, organizational culture, and internal processes, which means they can get up to speed much faster than a new employee.

However, if organizations don’t address the reasons employees left in the first place, they’re only setting themselves up for another exit or disengagement. To reap the benefits of boomerang employees, HR teams must understand their departing sentiments and address this feedback in their second go-around. 

What makes now the right time to bring back former employees? For many employees, switching roles was a way to stave off burnout. The pandemic was at its peak and countless industries were feeling the pressure. As a result, many employees simply needed to hit the reset button. But every new job comes with its own unique pressures and stress, and many employees have struggled to face these challenges without the comforts and familiarity of their former company to support them.

Additionally, nearly a third of all employees who transitioned into new roles did so for greater compensation. While pay is undoubtedly important, factors like a good manager, work-life balance, and relationships with colleagues are just as vital. In some cases, employees sacrificed these factors for greater compensation, a decision that isn’t a recipe for long-term satisfaction. 

Now that the novelty of their new roles has worn off, many employees are craving stability, which creates the perfect opportunity for organizations to bring them back into the fray. However, seeing familiar faces isn’t enough to entice them back. Organizations need to understand why they left in the first place and take steps toward addressing their core concerns. Unless HR addresses these concerns, the same issues that affected their initial tenure will only re-emerge, leading to pessimism and disengagement that could infect overall team morale. Ultimately, substantive action is the only way to make their second tenure better than their first.  

80% of employees who left their jobs during The Great Resignation now regret it. 

Three Stages of Bringing Back Employees

Boomerang employees can be valuable assets, but organizations need to start thinking about them as potential returnees long before they start looking for a new job. It’s a continuous process of soliciting feedback and making improvements to company culture and overall employee experience. When committed to this process, boomerang employees are simply a natural byproduct.

There are essentially three stages of welcoming back a former employee.

1. Exit interviews. The process of bringing back a former employee begins before they leave. Regardless of the employee’s reasons for leaving, a professional, empathetic offboarding process leaves the relationship on a good note. Allot enough time for logistical tasks like collecting old equipment and deactivating accounts, but also give employees time to say goodbye to fellow colleagues. Most importantly, conduct an exit interview. 

The exit interview is where HR can gain clarity into the employee’s motivations for leaving. Without understanding these motivations, there’s no hope of bringing them back for a second go-around. During the interview, ask open-ended questions and just listen. And before they leave (if appropriate), mention they are welcome back at some point down the road. 

2. Show support after the employee leaves. Understanding the reasons for an employee’s departure is only half the battle. To recruit them back, organizations have to turn these insights into action. 

A good starting point is to find common threads or meaningful points of differentiation between employees’ responses. For example, if several departing entry-level employees cite low compensation as a reason for leaving, the solution could be to raise the starting pay scale. If employees continuously cite poor relationships with their managers, the solution could be to reassess how first-time managers work with direct reports. 

While employees are away, keep tabs on their professional journeys and show support, whether it be over platforms like LinkedIn or the occasional coffee chat. The key here is to avoid maintaining this relationship for the sole purpose of bringing the employee back later. The support should be genuine, whether it comes from the employee’s former manager, colleagues, or HR team. Over time, genuine support can make the idea of a return more appealing. 

Nearly a third of all employees who transitioned into new roles during The Great Resignation did so for greater compensation.

3. Bringing the employee back. After nurturing relationships with former employees, there maybe be a desire to return. While this is great news, organizations shouldn’t rush to hire the employee back before making a couple of considerations. 

First, what’s the reason for wanting to return? Are they just looking to escape their new role and lean on the familiarity of their former one? This is a sign that the employee may become disengaged after the excitement of rejoining the company fades. However, if their time at another company helped them appreciate their previous job more, that’s a better indicator of the employee’s future success. Learn about their thought process before moving forward with hiring.

Second, has there been tangible changes in response to the employee’s exit interview? Be honest with the employee about how their second tenure will be different—or the same—and never misrepresent how the organization has changed since they’ve been gone. 

As more employees question what they value most at work, the concept of boomerang employees will continue to grow in popularity. In tight labor markets, a strong connection with a previous employer can pay dividends. However, it takes more than seeing some familiar faces for boomerang employees to prosper. Above all else, organizations must understand the reasons for the employee’s departure and take steps to remedy their concerns. Only then will the door for a potential boomerang employee—and all the benefits they can bring—finally open. 

Greg Barnett, Ph.D., is chief people scientist at Top Workplaces.

Tags: September 2023, Talent Acquisition, talent management

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