Operation boomerang: Why and how you should recruit former employees

There are plenty of reasons why people leave their jobs. As a hiring manager, you’ve probably heard them all. Gone are the days when resignations were seen as a sign of disloyalty and betrayal. In the thick of this tight job market, there’s been a growing trend to actively recruit former employees.

Here are some pros, cons, and caveats on how, when, and why to welcome back a boomerang with open arms.

Boomerangs are a safe bet

The benefits of rehiring a former employee are plentiful. Alumni come fully loaded with a font of institutional knowledge. They are already familiar with the company, coworkers, and systems, so they require less time to get up to speed, saving your business tens of thousands of dollars in onboarding and recruiting costs. Rehires also tend to be high performers. And you both know what to expect from each other, so there are no work culture misfires or surprises.

“Another pro to rehires is that it tells a great story for future talent acquisition and current employees. It’s a strong indication of company culture, values, and leadership when employees come back after time away,” says Liz Cannata, Vice President, Human Resources at CareerBuilder

But not all boomerangs come back for the right reasons. Alissa Chaim, SPHR, offers, “Boomerang employees can be a blessing or a curse. If a former employee wants to return with a renewed sense of loyalty and work ethic, that’s great. It means they saw what else was out there and realized how good they had it. Other boomerang employees may just be coming back as a placeholder until their next great opportunity.”

Encourage a candid conversation before making an offer to assess whether the issues that nudged them to leave in the first place have been adequately resolved. Otherwise, your boomerang is still a flight risk.

A new set of skills

Rehiring a former employee allows you to leverage the experience they gained working elsewhere. As per a recent AIHR article, boomerangs who have worked for a different company for a while can bring fresh perspectives and added value to your organization. Think of it as a professor going on sabbatical to acquire additional qualifications and skills.

But timing is everything. Former employees who’ve been away for too long often find it difficult to accept changes within the organization. Institute a reboarding process to cover what has changed in the company since they left, including turnover and new policies.

What’s different this time

Pre-COVID, telecommuting may have been off the table at your organization. Anthony Klotz, the mastermind who coined the term “The Great Resignation,” believes the wave of boomerang employees will continue over the next five years. Part of the reason is that former employers are now embracing flexible working.

“To attract former talent, companies can highlight new or exciting benefits (or core things that remain the same) and how the company is prioritizing and valuing employees,” Cannata suggests. Maria Wernimont, an HR manager with fifteen years of experience, also adds, “You may be interested in reaching out to high performers that left due to benefits that may not have been available or were not as competitive when they were previously employed.”

The art of saying goodbye

Before considering a boomerang, check with their previous supervisor and coworkers to see if they were in good standing. You’ll have a keen idea of which employees are potential rehires by their exit interviews. Concerns voiced when they left that have since been resolved may be just what they need to hear to welcome the opportunity to return.

The great regret

It’s important to recognize that the pandemic affected many people differently. Covid was a great disrupter. Now that we’re starting to find our way back, so are employees who may have made a life-changing decision to leave their jobs in the heat of the moment. A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that 30% of people who left their jobs for greener pastures regretted their decision.

Randa Reford, HR Manager at Tirion Works Management, remembers an employee who resigned to accept a new job with a significantly larger salary. It wasn’t long after she left that the employee contacted Reford to see if they’d consider rehiring her. “The amount of time spent commuting to her new job and the level of stress associated with it became too much for her.” Since the employee had left on good terms, she was warmly welcomed back into the fold.

Under the right circumstances, when boomerangs return, they are often there to stay and wind up being the company’s best spokespeople.

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