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The Boomerang Boom

Written by: Ron Scheese

The boomerang employee concept may seem unusual, but it is becoming more common. If you are not familiar with the term, a boomerang employee is someone who leaves a company only to be rehired by that same company at a future date.

The reasons people resign from their positions are as diverse as the people themselves. Some resign for personal reasons such as a major life event, a spouse’s relocation, to return to school, to rebalance work-life, etc. Others depart for professional reasons such as career advancement, a pay increase, to explore something different, to learn new skills, etc. The explanations for a return to a former employer are equally varied.  Perhaps the grass wasn’t greener.  Maybe the former employer offered more career stability. Time may have diminished the employee’s original personal reasons for departure. It’s conceivable that the employer has grown in the interim and now provides new challenges or new working opportunities such as a flexible schedule, reduced hours or work from home alternatives. Whatever the motivations, the number of boomerang employees are on the rise.

According to a 2015 study by Workplace Trends, 15% of the workforce has returned to a former employer. Nearly 50% of the millennial generation would consider boomeranging as compared to only about 30% of Gen-X or Baby Boomers. Over 75% of employers are now more accepting of rehiring former employees than they were in the past. And, all of this was pre-pandemic research.

I did not embrace the concept of rehiring former employees for most of my career. I felt that when someone left my team,  even if the individual left in good standing,  it was a statement of loyalty. I only considered the situation through my lens and the impact on the business, ignoring the employee’s perspective in the process.  But my experiences over the years have overcome that negative bias.

To help other mangers, employers and perhaps individuals considering a boomerang move, I sat down with several Andesa employee-owners who navigated the successful boomerang experience.  Anne, Bill, Bob, Greg and Matt are highly motivated team players who returned to Andesa with new skills to contribute to our success. They each shared their stories, insights, and advice with me. Some of their quotes are sprinkled throughout my takeaways from the conversation.

Two global observations emerged:

1) There does not seem to be a stigma attached to the term boomerang. I thought the label might be a bit derogatory and was concerned how they would react when we first sat down to discuss their stories. Some had not heard of the term, but all felt it was a pretty accurate description of the experience. While they preferred a description such as “returning employee” or just “employee” to avoid being singled out; no one was offended by the boomerang tag.

2) One size certainly does not fit all. Whether returning as a boomerang or considering a boomerang for rehire, each situation should be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Those interviewed had various reasons for leaving but all left on good terms. Each person was away from Andesa for different lengths of time, had different reasons for returning, experienced the interview process differently and some were rehired by their original manager while others returned in a different career capacity or reporting to a different manager.

In this first part blog, directed at employers and managers, here is what I learned about the pros, potential pitfalls and hiring process ideas companies, HR and hiring managers should consider in evaluating a boomerang individual.

PROS

Familiarity minimizes guesswork for the hiring manager.  Perhaps the number one reason an employer rehires an individual is that they are a known entity. They are familiar with the company culture and performance expectations. The manager can more readily assess how the individual will assimilate into the organization through their past experiences. “My former manager said, ‘I don’t know if we really need to go through a formal interview process.’  It was more of a true one-on-one discussion about any issues we might have or things in the past we didn’t see eye-to-eye on. It was an open and honest conversation – no pulling punches or anything.”

Cost is an advantage often cited for the rehire.  The expedited hire, onboard, and training timelines save money; not to mention the reduced ramp up time to full productivity which has a positive impact on the whole team. “For me personally, I almost felt like I never left.”

The returning employee also brings back new experiences, perspectives, and skills to share which could benefit the organization.  “I left. I learned. I came back. I was more mature in my career and I added more value because of leaving and learning.”

Hiring someone back also serves as a testament to the company and its culture.  It recognizes that each person has a career or life journey, and that each person is appreciated enough to be welcomed back. It also may encourage the team around them to appreciate that the company and/or manager must be doing something right  if individuals want to come back. “When we onboard people, I take the opportunity to talk about when I left and why I came back because the reasons I came back are very positive from Andesa’s perspective.”

POTENTIAL PITFALLS

While boomerang employees offer the potential for a positive experience for all involved, there are some potential pitfalls to navigate. As previously mentioned, each situation should be viewed through a unique point of view.

Before getting too far into the rehire cycle, the manager should assess the candidate across the team and organization. Performance goes a long way within the evaluation, but personality also has a critical place in the culture. No one can operate in isolation. Avoid rehiring a talented contributor if there are inklings from prior experience that their presence will hinder the productivity of the rest of the team. “My manager said as much as I’d like to bring you back, I’ve got to talk to the team.’  Luckily, he talked to the team and I assume everybody was completely on board. It all worked out.”

The manager and HR should collaborate before deciding to ensure they understand why the employee left in the first place. Have the conditions changed, either in the company or in the employee’s life which would warrant a return. Investigating why the candidate thinks this time will be better for them is a key step in the rehire consideration. Exit interviews provide a good starting point to figure out if a boomerang employee might leave in the future. If the conditions are the same in the company or on the team, it might not make sense to reopen the door to a potential transitory situation. “They took their reasons for leaving very seriously and the reasons for coming back very seriously. Conversations happening on the hiring side need to be taken just as seriously.”

PROCESS IDEAS

If attracting boomerang employees in this challenging labor market resonate, employers can become more attractive to potential boomerang employees. A couple ideas for consideration:

Keep the door open.  Social networking has made it easier to stay in touch with former colleagues. Encourage those connections and relationships with folks who have left the company. Things change and individuals go through different cycles.  Stay connected. “It’s just being a good human being in general as well as to let people know you care about them and you love them.”

Be intentional.  The group with whom I met returned to Andesa under no formal program or policy. Take time to think through the process. Consider reviewing the list of former employees and if you might consider rehiring them. Eliminate any concerns about whether a potential boomerang would be considered for rehire and then be proactive in reaching out to them about an interest in returning. “What if we made it more intentional?”

Establish a criteria-based process for interviewing.  Each member of the group shared a different perspective on their return interview. Take the time to consider what criteria and what steps a boomerang employee would be evaluated against in order to return to the organization. Time away from the company, a different role or a different manager may warrant a more traditional interview path but a streamlined approach could be employed under certain criteria. “I didn’t assume that I could just walk in and get the job. But it would have hit me very hard if Andesa said no after working here for several years.”

Strive to keep the talent in the first place.  By engaging closely with employees, managers and companies may be able to retain more talent and avoid the need for the boomerang.  Responding positively to requests for flexible hours, remote work options, growth opportunities or challenging new assignments may provide incentives to stay. “If we had remote possibilities, I probably would not have left in the first place?”

I am grateful that Anne, Bill, Bob, Greg, and Matt took the time to share their perspectives and broaden my thinking on this subject. I am also fortunate they returned to Andesa and are writing the next chapter in their career and our story together. I hope some of their insights resonate with you as well.

Do you have any tales or viewpoints you’d like to add to the conversation?  Leave us a message in the comments section.

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