By: Katie Chen on March 30th, 2023

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Boomerang Employees: How to Welcome Home a Former Team Member

Organizational culture | Employee Retention

Employee retention is a critical priority for every business. When a key employee leaves, the loss goes beyond just their skills and institutional knowledge—there is also the significant cost of recruiting and training a new hire to fill their role.

But “I quit” isn’t always the end of the road. Boomerang Employees are an increasingly common phenomenon, especially after the pandemic and The Great Resignation. Research by Harvard Business Review found that 28% of new hires were people who had already worked for that company in the past 36 months.

Boomerang employees can play a key role in your broader recruitment strategy. Here’s what you need to know.

Why do boomerang employees come back?

Employees leave in pursuit of different opportunities for many reasons: a new title, higher pay, chances to advance along their career path, work-life balance, any number of personal reasons, or just the chance to try something different.

“The grass looks greener on the other side” isn’t always the case, however, so employees may come back to an employer they’re familiar with. This is especially likely if your company has transformed in the meantime, either by expanding or by rethinking your employee value proposition.

Personal networks can also lead to boomerang workers coming home to a former employer. Word-of-mouth remains a powerful recruitment channel, and ex-employees are likely to hear about open roles before the rest of the job market.

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Pros of rehiring a boomerang employee

A returning ex-employee has lots of advantages over other candidates, including:

Familiarity: The hiring manager may be familiar with the previous employee. The boomerang employee might be familiar with the company culture, people, and processes making the onboarding quick.  

New Ideas: Boomerang employees may have new experiences or skills that were built at other employers that they can bring to the table. This could promote innovation and new ideas.

Personal connections: The returning employee will already be familiar with colleagues, managers, and possibly with clients or vendors. This makes it easier to get past the “getting-to-know-you” stage and allows your new hire to become an immediate part of the team.

Cons of hiring boomerang employees

That said, a boomerang employee isn’t always better than a brand-new hire. Some things to watch out for include;

Onboarding shortcuts: Some employers make the mistake of thinking, “you know the ropes, so you don’t need onboarding.” A returning employee still needs an appropriate onboarding process, including training on any new skills they might require. Boomerang employees might also require refresher training on some aspects of their old job.

Turnover risk: Rehired employees could leave again. Some boomerang employees leave a situation they don’t want to be in and return to a previous employer because it is familiar. It might be their plan to stay with their previous employer temporarily until they find the right opportunity to move on to. According to research done by the Harvard Business Review, boomerang employeesoften jump ship just after the one-year mark”.

Difficult relationships: Hopefully, the boomerang employee left on good terms during their previous employment. However, if they had any personal issues with current employees or leaders, or felt that the company had mistreated them in the past, then those issues will need to be resolved.

Tips for successfully rehiring boomerang employees

Boomerang employees can be an excellent addition to your talent pipeline if you approach them in the right way.

The first step is to think of every employee as a potential boomerang. Any team member could quit tomorrow—but they could come back next year, which means that you need to start laying the groundwork right now.

  1. Invest in employee retention: Employee retention measures—such as your organizational culture, DE&I strategy, and Total Rewards philosophy—will help reduce staff turnover. These measures will also help create long-lasting employee loyalty, which means that leavers are more likely to consider a return in the future.
  2. Have an offboarding process: Use the data and information collected during the offboarding process to understand what was shared about their previous experience working at the company. Was it overall positive? Did the employee identify issues at the company, and have they been resolved, or is it about the same? This can help mend fences with someone that had a poor employee experience.
  3. Develop an alumni network: Encourage your ex-employees to stay in touch on social media or by subscribing to the company newsletter. When opportunities arise, make sure that your alumni are the first ones to know.
  4. Offer a streamlined hiring process for returning employees: Former employees can skip a few of the candidate screening hoops (although you still need to perform due diligence on things that may have changed since they left your company). A streamlined process makes it more likely that an ex-employee will apply. It also reduces your hiring costs.
  5. Be frank about why the previous engagement ended: During the interview stage, you can circle back to feedback from the employee’s previous exit interview. They may have expressed some concerns about their first-time employee experience, and it’s better to address those concerns before starting a new engagement. Make sure that both sides have clear expectations before going ahead.
  6. Offer full onboarding: Boomerang hires might need more onboarding than you think, as many of your processes may have changed while they were away. Make sure that they have full training and support to help them deliver for their new team.
  7. Perform regular check-ins: The first twelve months are crucial for any new hire, so it’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings to talk about progress. If the employee is having any difficulty adjusting, try to support them in any way possible. 

Need help with employee retention? 

Boomerang employees can make great hires, but it's better not to lose an employee in the first place. You can increase retention and reduce turnover by offering a great employee experience. 

Need some help with employee engagement and retention? Book a call with a Helios HR consultant today, and see how you can build a highly engaged team. 

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