Boomerang Employees: Should You Rehire Them, or Is Once Enough?

Boomerangs are often listed as an underused and seldom considered talent pool. This makes them especially valuable in today’s tight labor market.

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Boomerang employees: Should you rehire them, or is once enough?

Here's what you need to know about boomerang employees: Should you rehire them, or is once enough?:

  • Boomerangs who return to work for the same boss and in the same department perform better than those who don't.
  • Evaluating a boomerang opportunity is a waste of time for everybody involved if there aren't clear expectations and buy-in on both sides.
  • Boomerangs are found to "go above and beyond" what their job as a rehire requires.

Job seekers are driving the labor market. And they know it. They’re quitting, picking, choosing, and passing over jobs at will. A few are even returning to former employers for work. This last group of workers is rightly called “boomerang employees.”

Boomerang employees may feel like a godsend for employers struggling with a massive talent shortage. For other employers, a boomerang employee may feel like a “bad penny,” something bothersome that goes away but keeps coming back.

How likely is it that a boomerang employee going to show up (again) in your HR office? According to a report by Brian J. Ruggeberg, Ph.D., and Meng Li, Ph.D., for Kincentric, a global HR advisory firm:

  • 15% of employees return to a former employer at some time in their work life
  • 76% of HR professionals said they would welcome them back

The question for employers is: Should you rehire an ex-employee, or is onboarding someone once enough? And if you do choose to rehire them, how will they perform on the job?

Why boomerangs leave but return

Andrew Duffy, CEO and cofounder at SparkPlug, told Workest about the social and economic backdrop creating what employment experts call a rise in boomerang employees.

“The ongoing labor shortage in the U.S. has dramatically shifted power into the hands of workers, who are finally in a position to demand the recognition (and compensation) they deserve,” said Duffy. “Businesses are desperate to fill roles that:

  1. Require minimal training
  2. Can ramp up quickly
  3. Are guaranteed a culture-fit.”

The pandemic is credited with people wanting more out of life, preferring to work from home (WFH), or leaving their jobs for better opportunities elsewhere. But the Kincentric report found that people return to a previous employer for various reasons. They either realize that their old job wasn’t so bad after all or that more opportunities are available in the current labor market.

The report also referenced other research, which concluded that boomerang employees tend to have been with their former employer for a relatively short time and likely left abruptly. The same data concluded that boomerang employees were on their former employer’s staff either recently or some time ago and left for life-changing events such as:

  • Health issues
  • Family responsibilities
  • Retirement

Explaining that ex-employees may return to a former employer when they realize it offers a better work experience, Ruggeberg told Workest by email, “This is particularly true if their former employer has taken concrete steps to improve recruitment and retention, such as:

  • Instituting increases in compensation and benefits
  • Offering more flexibility and perks
  • Focusing on enhancing the employee experience to create a more appealing and engaging culture.”

He continued, stating, “There is also an element of ‘the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t’ suggesting there are similar issues and challenges in many organizations and dealing with those you have already encountered may be preferable to the unknown challenges that arise in a new company.”

Ex-employees score high against coworkers

Along with HR’s welcome, here’s more good news for boomerang employees from research in the Kincentric report:

  • Boomerangs outperform external employees when a job calls for such social skills as cooperation, interdependence, concern for coworkers, and good relations.
  • Boomerangs who return to work for the same boss and in the same department perform better than those who don’t.
  • Also, rehires do their jobs just as well as they did before.
  • Rehires perform as well as those hired internally or externally during the first year of their return. The one drawback is that other workers may outperform boomerangs over time.
  • Managers who are rehired are more likely than their internal counterparts to be promoted but less likely than those hired externally.
  • Boomerangs are found to “go above and beyond” what their job as a rehire requires.

These research results should give boomerangs hope about returning to a former employer. But is outperforming their coworkers enough for employers to rehire them?

“Employers should not be afraid to hire boomerang employees with the right considerations and expectations, especially given the current vacancies, challenges, and opportunities presented by the [current] environment” ~ Brian J. Ruggeberg, Ph.D., and Meng Li, Ph.D., for Kincentric

“Employers should start by being honest with themselves about why these team members left in the first place,” Amy Zimmerman, chief people officer at Relay Payments, told Workest in an email interview. She continued with the following challenge, “Ask yourself these tough questions and come up with a way to create real and lasting positive change.

  • Did you allow a hostile work environment?
  • Did team members feel marginalized and unseen?
  • Were they encouraged to obtain the skills they needed to grow in their roles?”

Rehiring boomerangs has rewards and drawbacks

Job performance naturally weighs heavily on employers, but performance is just one consideration when rehiring ex-employees.

Ruggeberg said that rehiring a boomerang employee can be what he described as a “viable and efficient option” for employers. In the short term, at least. ” He said, “Employers should not be afraid to hire boomerang employees with the right considerations and expectations, especially given the current vacancies, challenges, and opportunities presented by the [current] environment,” he said.

Still, there are rehiring pros and cons that employers must review and consider to ensure that a former employee is still a good choice.

Pros

Your chances of making the right decision to rehire a former employee could be greater based on their positive characteristics, such as:

Performance. Besides possibly outperforming their coworkers, boomerangs may return with a new outlook and fresh insights that can energize your company and team members.

Familiarity. Ex-employees know your company’s culture and how it functions, which can make them a good fit. They likely know your company’s processes and procedures and how to navigate them.

Onboarding. Ex-employees have already been through your onboarding process. They, therefore, can get up to speed quickly with less effort than new hires.

Training. A boomerang may not need the formal training that other employees require to improve their skills. They may need to get up to speed on some tasks and responsibilities from having been away, but the learning curve may be shorter because of their familiarity with your company.

Cost savings. Employers spend between $30,000 and $45,000 on hiring, recruiting, and onboarding to replace a worker earning $60,000 a year. By rehiring an ex-employee, employers can reduce their hiring and recruiting expenses by one- to two-thirds of the cost.

“Other benefits of rehiring boomerang employees include the skills they may have acquired in a previous job,” Gilles Raymond, CEO/founder of Letsmeet, told Workest via email.

Raymond added that what’s key in rehiring former employees is offering them the same role and benefits package. “Not doing so will send a message to the rest of the organization that if they want an increase [in salary] or more responsibility, they need to [leave] and come back,” he said.

Boomerangs are also listed as an underused and seldom considered talent pool. This makes them especially valuable in today’s tight labor market.

Cons

Ruggeberg agrees that familiarity, a shorter onboarding process, and lower recruiting and training costs are benefits for companies that hire ex-employees. But he said there are lingering questions involved in rehiring workers, such as:

  • How will they perform?
  • Will they be committed and engaged?
  • How likely are they to leave again?

“There is also research that suggests that while boomerangs may outperform external hires in the first year or two of their return, this trend may not hold, and they may not perform as well over the longer term.”

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Other cons to consider

Resignation. As Ruggeberg pointed out, a boomerang may leave your company again, creating another vacancy you may need to fill. Also, some employees frequently job-hop, so a review of their recent employment history may be necessary.

Reasons for leaving. Uncover and closely review the reasons the ex-employee gave for leaving the first time. This is to avoid the risk of the ex-employee leaving again.

Unmet expectations. Boomerangs may expect the same:

  • Pay rate
  • Procedures
  • Processes
  • Culture

In other words, those characteristics that defined your company when they were there the first time. They may be disappointed if their expectations aren’t met and will possibly resign again.

“Boomerangs also need to consider whether returning to a former employer is wise,” said Duffy. “Evaluating a boomerang opportunity is a waste of time for everybody involved if there aren’t clear expectations and buy-in on both sides,” he said. “Here is where workers can really flex their new-found muscle and set the terms of their triumphant return.”

Expectations of the second hiring process

Boomerangs may think that since they’ve already been through your hiring process, interviews and evaluations aren’t necessary the second time around. But Zimmerman believes the process should be basically the same. She said that while you may be able to skip some parts of the process, you should ensure that boomerangs are aligned with:

  • Your expectations of the role
  • The fit with team members
  • The company’s needs

Raymond said the second interview process will be more about why boomerangs want to return than their skills. He sees the second interview process as a good time to find out:

  • Why these former employees left
  • What about them needs to be improved
  • Will they share what their expectations are
  • What they learned while away

Raymond lays out three objectives for the second interview, which includes finding out:

  1. What motivates boomerangs
  2. Their potential for improving the company, management team, and their role
  3. What they learned at a previous company

A rehire shouldn’t be a timewaster for your company or its employees.

How to rehire for a win-win

A rehire shouldn’t be a timewaster for your company or its employees. Here’s how to make it work:

Make the employee experience good the first time. Making it good for all employees when they first come on board is making it memorable. Also, you’ll have a better chance of recruiting qualified candidates from the ex-employee talent pool.

Show departing employees gratitude. Ignoring and isolating employees who leave voluntarily in their final days at your company is a bad sendoff. Instead, celebrate their contributions and let them know you value their service. You never know when you may want or need to rehire them.

View the boomerang employee in new ways. Regardless of the reason, a former employee left your company (except on unfavorable terms), a fresh perspective on the person can be the foundation for an even better working relationship.

Clarify what’s different the second time around. A boomerang employee may not know anything has changed, such as pay rates, company culture, or onboarding, since they left. Explain clearly what’s different, including expectations, and have the ex-employee express any reservations about what’s changed before rehiring them.

Give the current team a heads-up about the rehire. Also, let ex-employees know about any changes in teams so they can expect changes in the members’ group dynamics. This helps tamp down any “this is the way things used to be” notions that former employees may have.

“When it comes to welcoming back boomerang team members, clear and consistent communication is key,” said Zimmerman.When both parties feel comfortable enough to lay out what they want and need from a return trip to your company, it’s easy to make sure everyone walks away feeling aligned and ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

Finally, you may want to consider adopting a formal policy on rehiring employees. Ruggeberg said there are clear advantages to having a structured policy and process.

Bringing boomerangs back can benefit both of you

“Establishing clear and consistent guidelines helps to ensure equitable treatment as well as utilizing best practice approaches,” Ruggeberg said. “It can also increase efficiency, allowing hiring managers to follow a “playbook” rather than figuring things out on the fly. A well-thought-out and structured rehire policy can also help avoid some issues that may have led to attrition in the first place.”

 

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