Rehiring Your Own LeBron James

When star employees return

By Tom Gimbel Jan 12, 2015

As the economy picks up, the national “quit rate”—the percentage of workers who voluntarily leave their jobs—has climbed to 1.8 percent, the highest rate since the Great Recession and up from a low of 1.2 percent in September 2009, according to the Labor Department.

That means more employees are willing to leave their current positions, optimistic that they will land better opportunities. More often than not, the highly talented are the first to walk out the door. There are often stories of companies giving staff the cold shoulder as soon as they put in their two weeks of notice, but what these companies fail to consider is: Could these employees possibly come back, and if so, would they be eligible for rehire?

The July 2014 news that LeBron James would return to his original National Basketball Association team—the Cleveland Cavaliers—reflects this concept of the “boomerang employee” who returns to an organization after spending years elsewhere. In these situations, the last thing hiring managers want is for news of the former employee’s return to disrupt the company culture or productivity.

Here are five ways to pave the path for rehiring your own LeBron James:

Keep it classy. When star employees leave, employers need to put their pride aside and be professional. Whether or not the departing worker has another position lined up, employers should offer themselves as a reference for future opportunities. Too many companies give departing workers the cold shoulder, which threatens the relationship and the company’s reputation. Remember, good performers typically surround themselves with other good performers, and whether they return to your organization or not, they’ll make recommendations to their colleagues about your organization. Exit interviews—verbal and written—should be conducted with every employee who leaves. Should these employees want to return, managers can review these documents and refresh their memories about what made the worker unhappy. The same documents can also inform HR managers about any recurring issues that are causing employees to walk out the door.

Keep the door open. Maintaining relationships with top performers is critical if organizations ever hope to win them back. There are various ways to keep in touch, whether it’s an annual lunch, or an occasional e-mail or phone call. Including them on e-mail blasts of company updates—such as announcements about awards or a company expansion—is a great way to show them they are missed.

Be thorough. How in-depth the interview process should be for a former employee depends on how long the worker has been gone. If it has been more than a year, the employee should submit to a formal interview process, just as other applicants would. Managers should discuss the boomerang employee’s motivation for returning and any concerns either side may have, as well as brief the employee on changes at the company. A lot can change in a year. If it has only been a few months since the worker left, letting the employee have a conversation with the CEO and senior management may be enough. Because the employee’s skills may have changed, or the company culture may have evolved in a new direction, keep in mind that the worker might thrive in a position that’s different from the one he or she recently left. Just as happened when the worker was first interviewed, the hiring manager should ensure that the employee’s priorities remain in line with those of the company.

Trust your gut. Beyond a verbal commitment, how can hiring managers guarantee the boomerang employee won’t leave again? Unfortunately, they can’t. Ultimately, business is about taking risks, and hiring is no exception. Trust your instincts. If there’s a historic relationship with the employee that involved rapport and trust, and if the worker kept promises during his or her time with your company, take a risk. It may well pay off.

Prepare the staff. Rehiring a former employee should never be a one-person decision. All in management should be able to voice their opinions on whether or not it’s best for the company’s future. Whether the rehiring is communicated by a companywide e-mail, or during a companywide event, break the news early. Staff should be notified a few weeks before the employee’s return so they have time to ask questions and voice concerns. An open-door policy is crucial. The last thing hiring managers want is for news of the returning employee to disrupt the workplace. If the rehiring and its reasons aren’t addressed head-on, it can stir up office speculation—some of it untrue—on why the person is returning, and become a distraction.

Tom Gimbel is president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm based in Chicago.


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