Stay in Touch with Former Employees; One Could Be Your Next Hire

‘Boomerang’ workers have their positives and negatives, hiring experts say

By Roy Maurer Apr 22, 2016
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Don’t write off former employees. Workers who leave and return have the benefit of already knowing your culture and work processes. Plus, they are likely to be advocates for your company and could be a prime source of referrals.

“Up until now, once employees left their position with an organization, a company would … many times deem them not rehirable,” said Aubrey Robison, vice president and workforce solutions expert at Atlanta-based staffing firm Spherion. But “considering the majority of our workforce is currently from the Millennial generation and known for the need to have change and experience, employers should consider recognizing and even embracing this tendency.”

According to a WorkSphere survey from Spherion conducted in March among more than 1,000 workers, 29 percent said they have returned to a previous employer. An additional 41 percent said they are open to being a “boomerang” employee in the future.

In another survey of more than 1,800 HR professionals, managers and employees conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos in 2015, 75 percent of HR respondents and 65 percent of managers said they are open to hiring boomerang employees. The majority of respondents (85 percent) reported that in the past five years, they received job applications from former employees. Forty percent said their organization hired about half of the former employees who applied.

Why—and Why Not to—Hire a Former Employee

Boomerang employees have organizational knowledge; the company knows they have skills, potential and cultural fit; and now, after spending time away from the original company, they’ve gained new insight.

“Returning [employees] are often an organization’s best recruiting tools because they know that the grass is definitely not greener, and they are usually very pleased to share that perspective,” said Joyce Gioia, a management consultant, workforce futurist and CEO of Employer of Choice International, based in Austin, Texas.

“But with everything, there’s a blessing and a curse,” said Ilene Siscovick, a partner at global consultancy Mercer in New York City. “There’s a fundamental reason that the employee left the organization in the first place, and bringing them back in could have unintended consequences.”

Siscovick said that HR, the recruiter and the hiring manager must try to understand the context of why the employee left. Was the pay too low? Is the employee a job hopper? “What makes you think they will come back and stay, and provide value over a longer term? The chances are maybe 50-50 that they will come back, be happy and continue to contribute,” she said.

Staying in Touch

Employer alumni networks keep organizations connected with former employees, making it easier to rehire or ask for a referral.

These networks are important; the employee-employer relationship is projected to change as Millennials move from employer to employer, said Ben Casnocha, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur, and co-author of the New York Times best-selling book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014).

Casnocha encourages HR professionals to set up alumni networks and make them part of the employee value proposition. “Lifetime employment may be over, but a lifetime relationship can and should endure,” he said. “You can co-opt [former employees] to continue to add value to the company, and you can continue to invest in them. To say that ‘You may only work here for a few years, but you’ll be an alum for life’ is a powerful message.”

Use social networking sites like LinkedIn to stay connected and shape the corporate alumni group experience. “You can celebrate the success of former employees when they get promoted or announce an accomplishment. Keeping alumni active can also lead to them becoming clients and customers in the future,” Siscovick said.

Employers can also support alumni with dedicated social events. “Bring along a list of your open positions,” Gioia said.

But tread carefully, Siscovick cautioned. “The risk is that former employees may use the event to recruit attendees for their new company. All employees are potential free agents.”

Pleasant Exit Essential to Future Boomerangs

Successful offboarding, the process for transitioning employees out of an organization, leads to an engaged and receptive alumni network. But according to a 2015 Aberdeen Group report, only 29 percent of employers reported having an offboarding program.

“In many ways, offboarding is equally important to a company’s success as onboarding,” said Amber Hyatt, SHRM-SCP, director of product marketing for Chicago-based HR software provider SilkRoad. It is more than “just the logistics of returning keys, badges and computers.”

Hyatt defined successful offboarding programs as those which incorporate all three of these elements:

  • Treat departing employees well during the transition. “Companies must ensure that departing employees leave with a positive mentality and favorable opinion of the company,” she said.
  • Use a systematic process, including regarding financial arrangements, benefits transition, property handovers and an exit interview. “For departing employees, the difference between having a positive or negative offboarding experience can often be determined by the smallest of details.”
  • Mitigate co-workers’ speculation. Hyatt said that organizations should notify employees about departing colleagues and communicate openly and honestly to minimize gossip.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy

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