Employee Encores: Why Hiring Back Boomerang Employees Can Help With Retention

Photo Credit: Mek Frinchaboy / Stocksy

By Lindsey Galloway

The number of people leaving their jobs has never been higher — more than four million people have quit their job each month of 2022 according to the US Labor Department. But even as this Great Resignation remains underway, organizations have started to see a new trend emerge: the boomerang employee.

According to a new report by software company UKG, more than two in five employees say they were better off at their former job, and in fact, one in five employees who resigned during the pandemic have already returned or “boomeranged” to their prior company.

These types of employees were once shunned by HR departments. Pre-pandemic, more than 50% of departments even had active policies against re-hiring former employees. But in the ongoing war for talent, organizations have rethought this stance, and instead have started building programs that leave the door open in the chance that employees might come back.

“It’s impossible to control every variable throughout an employee's life cycle at a company. The reality is that people will come and go,” says Jenna Miller, Chief of Staff at Betterworks. “There may be personal reasons someone left, or maybe they were just ready for a change. Approaching these scenarios with empathy, and treating employees just as well on their way out, could pay massive dividends in the long run.”

Building a robust offboarding program that addresses these issues has become even more key with the rise in boomerangs. But according to survey data by talent firm Wiley Edge, only 38% of businesses have an offboarding process specifically designed to enable employees to leave on good terms, 42% give departing employees the opportunity to give honest feedback, and less than a third of companies celebrate the achievements of those leaving.

Creating an intentional exit process is the first step in ensuring a resignation goes as smoothly as possible, and can lay the foundation to prevent potential boomerangs from leaving in the first place by understanding if there are any trends behind departures — such as a common refrain of burnout from a particular department or under a particular manager.Managers, on that note, should receive proper exit training  and also be given feedback to make any reasonable changes that might retain future staff. In exit interviews, encourage departing employees to be as authentic as possible, and ask key questions, like why the employee is leaving and if there was anything the company or a leader could have done to prevent it. If there’s nothing to be done to retain the employee at the time, it only helps to be enthusiastic and empathetic about the next step in their career journey.

“Express to the exiting employee that you support their career and want what is best for their journey, but would still welcome them back with open arms,” says Tami Simon, Senior Vice President at consulting firm Segal.

When an employee considers coming back to a company, ask why they’re thinking of returning to ensure it’s still a good organizational and cultural fit. If an employee left on good terms, was appreciated by their colleagues, and their skills and values remain aligned with a company’s current mission, the decision to bring them back should be straightforward.

“It’s a no-brainer on whether or not to rehire them. You should,” says Miller. The benefits of boomerang employees tend to far outweigh the negatives, and can strengthen a company’s culture.

Boomerangs frequently serve as great brand advocates for organizations by highlighting what inspired them to return,” says Danielle McMahan, Chief People and Business Operations Officer at Wiley. “They bring an existing understanding, and often a deeper appreciation of cultural strengths.” They may speak on what they missed, whether it was mission, culture, or people, and is the living embodiment that the grass isn’t always greener at another company — preventing possible future boomerangs in the process.

Onboarding time of course is much quicker with return hires as well, which pays for itself in productivity. “These employees have already been ingrained in the company culture and their respective teams before, so the learning curve will be less than an individual with no previous experience,” says Miller.

Even if your company has yet to experience boomerang employees, building a robust employee alumni program can up the odds, and create long-term goodwill and brand equity that can help attract both new and former talent.  Many companies have retiree alumni networks, but there’s no reason that shouldn’t be broadened to employees at every life stage, says Simon. In fact, setting up monthly or annual breakfasts for former employees can foster connections and keep the company top of mind.

No matter what an employee’s reason might be for leaving the company, leaders can ensure they remove all possible obstacles for employees who wish to return, and build better brand ambassadors in the process.

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