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Why Boomerang Employees Will Become More Common

Published almost 2 years ago • 4 min read

Although millions of people continue to leave the workforce each month, things may not be exactly as they seem. In fact, new research reveals that many workers are reentering the workforce, often not long after their departure. Some are even returning to their former employers in a career move that might seem surprising at first glance.

These “boomerang” employees, as they’re called, accounted for 4.5% of all new hires in 2021 — up from 3.9% in 2019. Typically, these workers left their company under positive circumstances, but for various reasons they eventually decide to rejoin their organization. Some may have quit to fulfill caretaking duties, but are no longer burdened by these. Others may have wanted to explore a different career path, but find that it isn’t the right fit for them.

And some employees may simply have discovered that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. For example, new research from UKG finds that 43% of people who quit their jobs during the pandemic now admit they were actually better off at their old job. Their study also revealed that nearly 1 in 5 people who quit during the pandemic have already boomeranged back to the job they left.

Of course, the concept of returning to a former employer is nothing new. Back in 2015, my company partnered with UKG on a similar study, and discovered that nearly 40% of workers would consider going back to a company where they once worked. However, 80% said that former employers didn’t have a strategy in place to encourage them to return, with 64% percent saying there appeared to be no strategy for maintaining a relationship.

The issue is that not much has changed since then. In fact, most organizations still aren’t doing enough to keep track of their former employees or maintain relationships with them. And with the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing down, this could be a critical misstep for companies as they scramble to fill vacancies and stay afloat.

Employers could also be missing out on some of the notable benefits that come with rehiring former employees, from more cost-effective recruiting and on-boarding to better long-term performance. However, bringing on boomerang workers can have its pitfalls as well, including the very real risk that they might leave again. Let’s take a look.

The advantages of hiring boomerang employees

There are several benefits of welcoming former workers back to your business:

  • It costs less to recruit them: Did you know that hiring boomerang workers saves employers between one-third and two-thirds on recruiting costs? In fact, an average Fortune 500 company can save around $12 million per year by seeking out former staff members instead of using normal recruiting channels.

  • The on-boarding process is more efficient: Employees who are rejoining an organization will become productive more quickly than new hires since they already know the ins and outs of your business. They’ll also require less training and mentoring from managers and fellow team members. Altogether, this could save you up to $20,000 per rehired employee.

  • They’re more productive and loyal: Even after the initial on-boarding period, boomerang employees are more satisfied and committed than new hires. One study of 13,000 employees found that returning team members were nearly always higher performers than new hires. They were also far more likely to receive a promotion.

  • They already know your culture: If an employee chooses to come back to your company, it’s a sign that they were a good fit with your culture — and that’s beneficial for them and your business. And if they end up working with the same team members, everyone will have less anxiety about getting to know a new person and what they’re like to work with.

  • They can bring a fresh outlook to your business: Former employees can provide valuable insights, especially if they worked for a competitor during their time away. They might also be able to offer a helpful perspective on how your organization has evolved, and whether these changes are trending in a positive direction.

Things to look out for when hiring boomerang employees

Hiring a former employee can offer many benefits, but keep an eye out for these red flags when evaluating a potential candidate:

  • They left under negative circumstances: Even if an employee wasn’t technically “fired,” avoid rehiring someone if their co-workers or manager reported that they were difficult to work with. It’s also a good idea to find out why they’re leaving their current employer, for the same reasons.
  • They can’t articulate why they’re returning: This could mean that they’re just looking for a better salary, i.e., they’re taking advantage of the hot job market. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it might be a warning sign that they’ll leave again if a better opportunity presents itself.
  • They weren’t a top performer: It depends on how desperate you are to fill a role, but don’t let the perks of hiring a boomerang employee sway you to bring them back if they weren’t an asset to begin with. In the long-run, it’s wiser to invest in training a new hire who offers a stronger skillset.

  • They’ve been away from your company for awhile: While this isn’t a red flag per se, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re weighing other candidates for a role. The benefits of rehiring a former employee will diminish if they’ve been away for a few years, especially if your organization has evolved significantly during that time.

An untapped talent pool

Although there are risks associated with rehiring former employees, with some due diligence your company can benefit enormously from welcoming them back. But don’t expect workers to just come knocking at your door — you’ll need to step up your efforts when it comes to recruiting from your alumni network. After all, people have lots of options in today’s employee-driven job market. And if their previous employer isn’t actively trying to maintain a relationship with them, they may feel uncertain about whether they’d be welcomed back and decide that it's best to move on.

So if your company is grappling with a talent shortage — like so many organizations are — maybe now is the time to focus your recruitment efforts on this untapped talent pool. You never know what might come of it!

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know whether your company is focusing its recruitment efforts on rehiring former team members.

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