Executive Briefing

Potential boomerang employees are worth tracking; debate over worker shortage in STEM fields.

Jun 1, 2013

June Cover

Don’t be too quick to write off that employee who has just resigned. He or she may be back.

These “boomerang” employees can be a valuable staffing resource, and they cost less to recruit, train and socialize than a true new hire.

“You should continue to network with these people … because you never know who may decide to return,” says Abbie J. Shipp, assistant professor of management at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Shipp led a team of researchers in a study of boomerang employees at a large North American professional services company that offers accounting, audit and management consulting services. The majority of its 15,000 employees are consultants on the partner track. The authors do not disclose the identity of the company.

The researchers studied the differences between 350 boomerang employees and 1,019 “alumni employees” who quit but say they won’t return.

Surprisingly, they found that boomerang employees quit earlier in their first stints with the company—averaging just 3.8 years compared with 7.1 years for alumni. Boomerang employees more often left due to personal issues or job opportunities, while alumni left because of dissatisfaction with the company.

HR professionals may want to use exit interviews to probe why good employees are leaving and let them know they would be welcome back, Shipp says. After developing a system for identifying potential boomerang employees, the information can be linked to recruiting databases for future openings, the researchers suggest.

The study found that 85 percent of boomerang employees returned to the company within three years, suggesting that managers may want to touch base with those employees after one year to see if they’re still happy in their new positions.

While some companies use receptions or social networking sites to stay in touch with former employees, the study found that only 25 percent of boomerang employees were rehired as a result of such efforts. Sixty-one percent were rehired through personal contact with a manager. Researchers conclude that one-on-one networking and recruiting may be the most effective and least costly method for recapturing boomerang employees.

The study was published online by Personnel Psychology in April.

No Shortage Of STEM Workers?

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no shortage of U.S. workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.

The study was released in April, as Congress debated immigration policy and whether to increase the number of temporary work visas, known as H-1Bs, to make up for the lack of Americans in these fields.

Only half of the students graduating from U.S. colleges with STEM degrees are hired into STEM jobs, according to authors Hal Salzman of Rutgers University, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Daniel Kuehn of American University.

“Even in engineering, U.S. colleges have historically produced about 50 percent more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs each year,” they wrote.

However, Beneva Schulte, executive director of inSPIRE STEM USA, a coalition of businesses and educators lobbying for more H-1B visas, disputes the findings. She acknowledges that the overall number of STEM graduates in the U.S. has increased. “But with the growth of technology and IT businesses in the U.S., the increase is not keeping pace with employers’ needs, making the STEM crisis very real and one America cannot afford to ignore,” she explains. She contends the study is flawed because it artificially inflates the pool of STEM workers in the U.S. by including librarians, social scientists and other non-STEM professions as part of “information science.”


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