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Why You Should Welcome Back Boomerang Employees

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​In today's tough job market, no manager wants to see good employees leave. But with voluntary job separations reaching all-time highs, resignations are commonplace. However, companies may consider tapping into a growing source of candidates.

Boomerangs—employees who return after leaving a company—are on the rise. According to LinkedIn, this source accounted for 4.5 percent of all new hires among companies in 2021, up from 3.9 percent in 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It wasn't that long ago that nearly half of HR professionals said their companies had policies against rehiring former employees, even those who left on good terms. But boomerangs bring a lot of benefits.

"Hiring and onboarding a new employee is much more expensive and time-consuming than rehiring and reboarding former employees," said Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at Epignosis, a learning technology software provider. "Boomerang employees are already familiar with the company, the products, the processes, and can be productive much more quickly."

Boomerangs are also a known entity, added Lana Peters, vice president of the Americas at the HR tech platform HiBob.

"When hiring a boomerang employee, an HR team or manager knows that the employee already has a sense of what that company is like and, essentially, what they are signing up for," she said.

Boomerang employees likely already have relationships with team members. "This makes integrating them into the culture simpler, creating a smoother transition," said Peters, who added that her company rehired five employees across various departments in 2021 who were originally hired in 2018 and 2019 and left in 2020.

Who Makes a Good Boomerang?

The best boomerang employees are those who left the organization on good terms. Some departed for personal reasons, such as family situations. In some instances, specifically in the last two years, they may have also been a part of pandemic firings, Peters said.

Others left to gain additional experience or to explore other industries and progress in their careers. These employees come back after having gained new experiences, which can provide additional value for the company they're rejoining.

"[Former] employees grow in their trade while learning different perspectives, and employers are able to garner the riches of that growth and varying perspectives when a valued past employee returns," Peters said.

Be Aware of Potential Drawbacks

There's always the fear that a boomerang will leave again, but if someone comes back, there's a reason for their return. Don't take their previous exit as a sign that they are disloyal, said Peters. 

"Be sure you understand why the employee left in the first place, and if there were true issues, address them to clear the air and start fresh," she said. "If those issues, however small, are not addressed, they can creep back into their relationships and work environments, which you don't want to happen."

Another potential drawback deals with timing. "Old employees returning after a long time may find it hard to adapt to the changes that have happened to an organization," Gialleli said.

How to Encourage Returns

Once an employee resigns, encourage a return by letting them know they're welcome to come back, said Kathryn Minshew, CEO and cofounder of The Muse, a job search and career advice site.

"Say something like, 'I've enjoyed working with you so much, and if this next opportunity isn't what you hope it'll be for whatever reason, we'd love to have you back,' " she advised.

Leaders should invest time in fostering and maintaining relationships with talent, both current and previous.

"People stay at their jobs for the people they work and collaborate with, so keeping that community feeling alive even after a departure is critical in incentivizing them to want to come back and knowing they'll have a place," Peters said.

Creating a culture of belonging is key, said Sharon Steiner Hart, executive coach at Talking Talent, a coaching firm that helps companies build inclusive cultures.

"It should be easy for employees to be welcomed back in and quickly belong again," she said. "Employees that feel engaged and know that their opinion matters throughout their tenure will be more likely to ... re-engage, should the opportunity arise."

Once an employee leaves, stay in touch. Minshew suggests checking in with them about a month after they leave to ask how they're doing. "Not because you hope they hate it, but because you want them to know you were sincere when you expressed how much you valued the working relationship," she said.

Make touchpoints easy by building an online alumni network or sending a newsletter focused solely on enriching relationships with former employees.

"Although most of these networks are virtual, some organizations have an alumni network that is so robust they bring these individuals together for annual social events, as well," Peters said. "They also continuously market job opportunities to these networks to facilitate boomerang employment as they know these candidates are engaged, knowledgeable and valuable."

Welcoming boomerang employees can be incredibly valuable in building a strong culture, said Peters. 

"Encouraging boomerang hires tells your current employees it's OK to explore your options, make choices that enrich your journey and grow without the worry of burning bridges," she said.

Steiner Hart added: "Boomerang employees aren't something new and it isn't surprising that we are starting to see this phenomenon accelerate to match the pace of employees leaving—especially when many of them are leaving for altruistic, existential reasons. The great thing about a boomerang employee is that typically once they come back, they are more committed than they were before and turn out to be your best, long-term employees."

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.


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