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Welcome Back: Hiring Boomerang Employees

Back in the day I worked for a company that had an actual written-in-the-handbook “we do not rehire anyone” policy. In the estimation of the-powers-that-be, rehiring an employee who had previously resigned “rewarded disloyalty.”

Which was utter foolishness.

People leave jobs for any number of reasons – but generally it’s as simple as they perceive some sort of value elsewhere as opposed to the value they currently receive at your company. They may leave to:

  • acquire new skills
  • attain a different job title
  • advance their career
  • achieve better flexibility (WFH, schedule, hours)
  • earn more money (nothing wrong with that!)
  • explore a different industry
  • due to a life event (family relocation, etc.)

Just as there are numerous reasons that someone may leave your organization, there are myriad reasons they may want to return. Just last year, 43% of survey respondents who quit their jobs during the pandemic, expressed some regrets. People do, often, want to return to a previous employer.

The first order of business, early in the interview and hiring process, is to determine that if the person left voluntarily, has whatever caused them to leave been resolved or “fixed.” Make sure you get clarity on why they left and why they think it might be different now. What if it was a jerk of a manager? Or a toxic work culture or team culture? Has that changed or will they be coming right back into same dissatisfying situation?

The goal here is to make sure they want to return to you because they are running TO you – and not merely running AWAY from something else.

Alumni can be a superb source of talent from which to hire as long as you contemplate the pros, cons and other considerations:

  • Onboarding may be easier and more cost effective for returning employees.
  • Alumni “know” what they’re getting into with organizational culture, team dynamics and operational issues.
  • They possess institutional knowledge, understand the company hierarchy, and know “how to get things done.”
  • Employees are possibly returning with enhanced skills, experiences, and innovative ideas.
  • Re-hiring can send a strong internal message – “our people WANT to come back to us!”
  • If the employee left on not-the-best-of-terms (and everyone knows that) how does that factor into a return?
  • Depending on the time that has elapsed and if the company has undergone a cultural shift or transformation, will the returning employee “get” the new way of doing business?
  • If you’re only hiring them because it’s easy… does that mean they’re still the BEST fit for the job?
  • How will you navigate internal dynamics and manage human emotions? For some existing employees, seeing a former colleague return with higher pay, a sexier title, and enhanced responsibilities (potentially amidst much fanfare) may trigger jealousy.
  • You’ll want to lay sound foundational groundwork for the boomerang employee; while their institutional knowledge is a GREAT thing you don’t want them annoying others by constantly saying “well this is how we used to do it….”

While processing a re-hire may be easy in many regards, for optimal ease and success think about some of these operational items:

  • Make sure your policies are defined to accommodate returning workers. How do you count tenure or length of service? If someone comes back within x time frame, for example, do they come back in at the same PTO earning rate? Map this out, memorialize it in your HR policies, and plan for it ahead of time.
  • Think though how much you are willing to negotiate – and is this consistent for ALL or just for specific boomerang employees? Will you offer WFH or hybrid arrangements? What do they now “want” from you that they got from the company they left to join? Are you able and willing to MATCH working conditions in the marketplace that perhaps you aren’t currently doing?
  • Make sure you have a robust and culturally aligned offboarding process; don’t be one of those companies that ostracize people as soon as they give notice.

Staying in touch with former employees, and doing so as part of your overall talent strategy, can be beneficial in so many ways; if they’ve had a great employee experience, they’ll continue to be your champions and brand ambassadors. And, if you’re super lucky they may, one day, bring their skills and talent back to your company as a boomerang employee!


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