Boomerang Employees: Catch Them on Their Return or Let Them Pass?

In the current market where talent is hard to come by, would you and should you consider returning employees?

Whether you call them boomerang employees or comeback kids, everyone has a different take on whether or not hiring back an ex-employee is a good idea or a bad one.  In spite of the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 study showing that employees, on average, stay only 4.2 years with an employer and with a job market that is leaving even some employers of choice struggling for qualified help, many who retain the old school thinking that “you can’t go home again” would rather have a position remain open into the unforeseeable future than take back an employee who dared leave once before.  Of course, employers with that sort of philosophy typically are not known for their corporate culture anyway and probably do not have former workers knocking down their doors for a reason.

If you are an open-minded employer and interested in truly hiring the best help there is, then you may very well want to consider and perhaps even actively recruit former employees, particularly any stars you lost.  Here are a few things to take into account as you evaluate your company’s position on rehires:

Returning employees can personally attest to the fact that the grass is not greener somewhere else.

Promoting a boomerang rate to prospective new hires may actually help your company tell a better story about being an employer of choice.  Returning employees often become a great brand ambassador for your organization.  As someone who has tested the water elsewhere, they speak from experience in being able to say that the grass turned out to be greener in your company’s pastures.  Contrary to what some may think, these employees may also become some of your most loyal as they recognize the value your organization has to offer and may be all the more grateful for being provided the opportunity to return.

Recoup previous training investments and reduce onboarding time and costs.

When it comes to losing employees and estimating the cost associated with employee turnover in the way of lost training investment, productivity and recruiting expenses, the figures are significant – estimated by the Center for American Progress to be upwards of 213% of an annual salary for high-skill level jobs(as of 2012) and may be even higher now due to skills-gap shortages.  As with any investment, if you had a way to recover a portion or all of your investment in the case of a loss, would you?  By bringing back a previous employee, you likely can do just that, plus you may also actually end up saving money that you would need to invest in another candidate to train them and help them assimilate to your corporate culture and processes, thereby boosting your return on investment even further.

Already familiar with and perhaps ingrained in your corporate culture.

If the employee was a good fit with your company and his/her co-workers in the past, then this will very likely be true should they return.  They also probably bring with them some amount of your company’s unwritten “tribal knowledge” that someone only truly gains by working for your firm and learning the nitty-gritty of how everything works, including details that are likely not captured in your employee handbook. And, if your old employee is excited to be returning, his/her engagement level will be highly positive, which could be contagious and result in a morale and productivity boost for the existing team (who likely will also be happy not to have to invest a lot of their own time training someone new).

Brings new skills and perspective from time outside of your company.

Just as students are often encouraged to pursue varying levels of degrees at different universities in order to diversify their learning experiences, an employee who comes back after some time away will have gained new skills and knowledge and having worked for your firm before, may bring new perspective and understanding on how to quickly implement new ideas or changes to existing processes that will benefit your bottom line.  Management and co-workers may also be more quick to trust their insights and suggestions.

Known strengths and weaknesses to manage.

Having a candidate with known talents (as well as any shortcomings) can help provide peace of mind.  With outside candidates, you are often left second-guessing whether they simply look good on paper or if their true skill is just talking a good game.  A boomerang employee will already have a proven track record with your firm.

Question your own loyalty before you question a current or former employee’s.

So often, employers take it personally when an employee leaves and view it as traitorous act leaving their ego slightly bruised.  The reality is that very few employers these days really provide employees with incentives for loyalty and, if the economy and their bottom line dipped, they might let the same employee go just to stay afloat.  So unless you:

  1. Are one of the rare remaining Fortune 500 companies (only 5% as of 2015) still offering a rich pension plan,
  2. Regularly pay your existing employees at or above market rates and definitely more than you pay incoming candidates without your employees having to request a raise,
  3. Have incredible succession planning and promotion opportunities, and
  4. Would let your company fold before implementing a layoff,

then you really should not expect your employees to be totally loyal to you for their entire career.

If you decide to catch those boomerangs, establish proper procedures and processes for evaluating rehires.

Why did the employee leave?

If an employee left for higher pay, better career advancement, health issues for themselves or a family member or some other reason that you deem to be acceptable and did not burn bridges when they made their exit,  then there should be little concern in having them return.  If there were other known or suspected factors that lead to their departure, this should be explored further in the recruiting process.

How do they compare to other applicants?

To ensure that you are still getting the most qualified candidate for the position, you should compare apples to apples.  Make sure that the boomerang employee goes through the same talent acquisition processes as your other applicants (recruiting, application and resume submission as well as any interviews and testing) to eliminate potential bias as well as to ensure you are not passing over better talent.  As with other applicants, make certain you provide the same level of communication to your prospective boomerangs and ensure they have a great applicant experience throughout the entire process.

Have possible quit cause factors at your company changed since they departed?

After the employee left, did you note a high turnover rate for the employee’s previous manager and have dealt with it?  Was there a toxic employee with whom the returning employee previously had to interact who has since left?  Do you have better tools, processes and/or even people in place now that will better aid the employee in performing his/her job unhindered?  Are there more defined career tracks, training and advancement opportunities available?  Has their been a shift in corporate culture, change in compensation or benefit packages or other company-wide enhancements?  While none of these may need to be answered in the affirmative, if one of them had an impact on the employee’s decision to leave in the past and improvements have not been made (particularly with a bad manager), then you may very well lose this employee again and the next time it may be for good.

Ask prior co-workers to share concerns and opinions about potential rehires.

As a courtesy to existing employees who worked along side your prospective rehire, you should openly seek their feedback before bringing the boomerang employee back into the mix.  If there were problems with that employee that co-workers felt did not need to be addressed after that employee left, you may want to flush out any unspoken problems to ensure they are brought to light and addressed prior to any rehire decision being made.  This would be particularly vital if the former employee had problematic behaviors that bordered on harassment or hostile work environments where the company could be liable should that employee come back and have an incident occur.

Have a written rehire policy.

As with any policy within your organization that involves your human capital, it is not only a best practice, but also prudent corporate governance to make sure you draft written provisions outlining the criteria necessary to be rehired to set expectations for both the returning employee as well as management.  This helps protect your company against potential bias in hiring decisions as well as creating another scenario in which a rehired employee might jump ship should he/she be promised or expect something more than what the company is willing to do to bring them back on board.

Some parameters you may want to include in a rehire policy, might state:

  1. An employee will only eligible for rehire if:
    • The employee voluntarily resigned and did not “burn bridges” upon exit.
    • His/her job was eliminated or he/she was let go as part of a downsizing or mass layoff.
    • His/her employment contract expired and/or temporary work period ended.
    • He/She was not terminated for cause (unless a court order requires them to be rehired).
  2. The employee must have completed the probation period during initial tenure, provided ample notice of resignation and will be required to complete another probationary period upon rehire.
  3. Employee must have performance reviews showing satisfactory job performance.
  4. There is no history of harassment or other claims affecting workplace morale and compliance.
  5. Guidelines regarding reinstatement of tenure as it pertains to vacation earning rate, 401k contributions and vesting, benefit waiting periods, etc.

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