Boomerang Employees: When Former Staff Return, Is It a Good Thing?

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Nov 16, 2023
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Boomerang employees, those who leave and then return to their former employers, are becoming increasingly common in today's job market. This trend is evident from scenarios familiar to nearly every employer in the recent past: employees at all levels leaving for significant pay increases and companies conducting "stay interviews" or offering retention bonuses to retain their teams. During the period known as the Great Resignation, over 50 million people changed jobs.

Now, many individuals who switched companies are finding that their new opportunities might not be as advantageous as they had hoped. Consequently, some of these workers are considering returning to their previous employers.

According to a 2023 study by Harvard Business Review, on average, 28% of new hires are these returning professionals. This rate increases to nearly one-third in industries such as retail. Significantly, the phenomenon of boomerang employees isn't limited to corporate America; it's also making a notable impact on small businesses.

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Are Boomerang Employees Right for Your Small Business? 

As a small business owner, what should you do if a former employee comes calling? Should they be welcomed back with open arms, turned away for good or something in between? It depends.

Every boomerang employee situation is unique. In fact, in some cases, you may even want to actively recruit a former employee. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of hiring boomerang employees.

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The Benefits of Welcoming Back Boomerang Employees

Welcoming back boomerang employees offers several advantages for employers:

  • Familiarity with company culture

    They understand the organization's culture and processes, leading to a quicker adjustment and faster contribution.

  • New skills and perspectives 

    Having worked elsewhere, they bring fresh skills and insights, potentially driving innovation.

  • Reduced hiring costs and risks 

    Boomerang employees have a known track record, making their rehiring less costly and risky than onboarding new hires.

  • Positive impact on employee morale 

    Their return can boost morale, demonstrating the company's loyalty and attractiveness as an employer.

  • Expanded professional networks

    Boomerang employees often return with valuable new connections and relationships beneficial for the business.

  • Renewed energy and commitment

    Returning employees typically demonstrate high engagement and productivity, endorsing the company’s work environment.

  • Institutional knowledge 

    Boomerangs retain essential knowledge about the company's history and operations, which is valuable in roles requiring deep understanding.

In essence, boomerang employees blend familiarity with fresh expertise and adaptability, making them valuable assets.

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Beware of Boomerang Challenges 

While some who are rehired may have successful, long-term careers with the company they’ve come back to, there can be challenges.

  • Overlooking high-performing internal and external hires

A recent study in the Journal of Management noted that rehired managers, “performed similarly to internally and externally hired managers in the first year on the job, but both internal and external hires improved more than rehires over time.” 

  • Potential impact on team dynamics

It is also important to consider your current team. Will rehiring the boomerang employee cause workplace drama? Will others believe they should have been given the role the boomerang employee stepped into?

If issues remain unresolved from the employee’s first experience with your company, they can quickly return as problems and dissatisfaction. It also goes without saying that there are virtually no situations in which rehiring an employee who created ongoing problems in your workplace is a good idea. 

  • Confusion on how to handle benefits based on tenure

Finally, review the policies and procedures in your employee handbook to make sure they address boomerang employee situations. For example, if paid time off is based on years of service, how will you account for the total time a boomerang employee has served?  

Bottom line -- no two hiring situations are alike. There may be times when it’s in your company’s best interest to hire a former employee who wants to come back – or even to proactively recruit someone who was a rock star contributor within your business. There are also times when the circumstances are not well-suited for a boomerang employee to rejoin you. 

Interview Questions for Boomerang Employees 

Here are three interview questions for boomerang employees that will help you determine if rolling out the red carpet is the best decision. 

  • Why do you want to leave your current employer?

It’s crucial to understand exactly why boomerang employees want to leave their current situations. In many instances, it’s a case of broken promises. Employees may have been sold growth and promotion opportunities that didn’t transpire, or the teams or projects they were told they would lead were never assigned to them. Whatever the reason, make sure the employee can clearly articulate why a move is now desired. 

  • What did you like most about working for your company previously? 

Boomerang hires also should be able to clearly share why they want to return. Ask these individuals to explain what they enjoyed most and miss about your company’s culture. Did they stay in touch with past colleagues and miss the camaraderie? Are the working arrangements and assignments better suited to them? Do they prefer your company’s industry over another? 

Answers to these questions and others will help you make sure the former employee is certain that coming back is a fully formed desire. The last thing you want when you make a hiring decision is to learn your company was the easy button to get out of a job that didn’t meet hopes and expectations or was a stopgap measure on the way to somewhere else. 

  • What made you leave before? 

From an increase in salary to new career opportunities, employees resign for multiple reasons. Have a clear understanding of why former workers left your company the first time. If they left for more pay, are they willing to step back into your compensation model – or can you match their current salary? If you do, does that compensation level cause pay equity issues for the rest of the team? 

If they left for career growth purposes, can you provide similar development opportunities? If they departed to manage a team or lead larger projects, can you keep them engaged with higher-level responsibilities in the future? Noting what made them leave the first time will help you determine if they are likely to come back only to resign again. 

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Two Additional Employer Considerations 

Before finalizing the hiring of a boomerang employee, ask yourself these two questions:

  • How will you re-engage the returning employee?

    The old adage, “You can never go home again” is a reminder that things change. Depending on the time that has passed since the boomerang employee left, there may have been leadership or policy changes, new clients, new products and new structures within your company. Be clear in a boomerang hiring situation about what may be different, including any expectations you may have for the returning employee. 
  • Is the former employee the best candidate for the position?

    It can be tempting to fill a role quickly with a boomerang hire. You know the person and their skills. They already know your business. Often, they can hit the ground running. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best fit for your company today. 

    Pause to evaluate how the company’s needs may have changed since the employee’s departure, as well as new experiences the individual has had while they were away. Make sure this is the right person for the job. 

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Get Expert Help with Boomerang Employees: Contact Axcet HR Solutions

As you navigate the intricacies of rehiring boomerang employees, remember that expert guidance can make all the difference. At Axcet HR Solutions, a PEO for small business, our seasoned HR consultants specialize in hiring, recruiting, retention and every aspect of the employee lifecycle, including effective onboarding.

We understand the unique challenges and opportunities that come with welcoming back former employees. Ready to enhance your recruitment strategy and streamline your HR processes in Kansas City? Click here to request a consultation with our team at Axcet HR Solutions, and let's turn your hiring challenges into opportunities for growth and success.

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