Ever heard of the term Boomerang Employees?
Like an actual Boomerang, Boomerang Employees are those who return to a former employer after a hiatus. This is something that is becoming more prevalent in today’s dynamic job market – especially after the pandemic.
While their return can bring familiarity and previously acquired skills, it also raises the question: Are they an asset or a challenge?
As management training often emphasises the importance of adaptability and effective onboarding, understanding the nuances of reintegrating these individuals can be vital.
In this article, we’ll delve into the unique dynamics boomerang employees introduce and how best to manage their reentry into the workplace.
Boomerang employees are simple people who quit their jobs and then return later.
You can find a more in-depth explanation of “boomerang employees” meaning below.
People may become boomerang employees for a variety of reasons.
For example, maybe they felt they weren’t growing in their role, or perhaps they saw an opportunity for a similar position with higher pay.
These same employees may then decide to return to their old employer if a new position doesn’t work out as they’d hoped or because they preferred the organisational culture at their previous company.
The concept of a boomerang employee is not new, necessarily. However, the frequency with which people are leaving jobs and then coming back has increased significantly, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s plenty of data backing up the idea that more people are becoming boomerang employees – or at least are thinking about becoming boomerang employees – than before.
For example, a six-country study (which included employees in the UK) revealed that 20 percent of employees who left their employer during the pandemic have returned. Furthermore, over 40 per cent of those who quit acknowledge that they were better off at their previous job.
A LinkedIn study also showed that the number of UK workers who had returned to their former employers increased from 1.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.23 per cent in 2022.
Considering the fact that this situation has occurred on the back of the Great Resignation, it’s no wonder some people are calling it “The Great Return.”
Now that you know the answer to the question, “what is a boomerang employee?”, let’s move on and discuss the reasons why people become boomerangs.
Here are some of the top reasons why employees return to their old stomping grounds:
The first reason is the appeal of familiarity.
There are enough surprises in everyday life. When it comes to their jobs, many people are drawn to the familiar and don’t want to step too far outside of their comfort zones.
You may be hearing from old employees who want their former job back because they tried something new and found that they liked their previous work situation better.
People’s personal and professional goals change all the time.
When they left, your former employee may have had one idea of how they wanted their career to go. After they started down that path, though, and experienced life at another company, they may have changed their mind and decided that they preferred the path they were on before.
Has your company changed between now and when the former employee left? Have you had a change in management or created a new role that better aligns with their interests and goals?
If the company has changed significantly, that might be the reason why the previous employee wants to give working there another try.
Sometimes, employees return to a former employer because they realise that they have greater earning potential at their old job.
Maybe they left to work for a startup or a company that simply didn’t allow for as much financial growth as they had hoped for. To ensure they meet their own financial goals, the previous employee may have decided to try and get their old job back.
Finally, a former employee might be interested in coming back to their previous job because they miss their former coworkers and the relationships they had with them. New jobs aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be, and your old employee might have had a hard time making work friendships when they transitioned to a new job.
Not having friends at work can interfere with productivity, performance, and overall job satisfaction, so it makes sense that people might want to go back to the place where they feel closer to their colleagues.
Naturally, boomerang employees can have positive and negative impacts on an organisation.
In the following sections, you’ll learn about the benefits of welcoming back familiar faces, as well as the potential challenges you might face by doing so.
Let’s start with the pros! Here are some reasons why as a leader you might want to rehire a former employee.
Because they’re already familiar with how your company operates and what you expect from your team members, former employers can typically be onboarded faster than those who are brand new to the business.
If you want to expedite the process and have people hit the ground running sooner, rehiring former employees is an excellent way to go.
In addition to having a good understanding of how your company runs day to day, boomerang employees are also familiar with the company culture and the type of environment you strive to cultivate among team members.
They won’t need much (or any) reminding of how to behave, treat others, etc., when they’re rehired because they’ve already abided by those rules (hopefully) before.
Although they bring with them their familiarity with the company, boomerang employees also bring fresh perspectives from the time they spent away from the business.
These new perspectives can help you make positive changes that increase the team’s productivity and performance. They can also help you change the work environment so that more people want to stay long-term.
Looking for some inspiration on Team Building exercises? Check out our blog: 38 Team Building Problem-Solving Activities
Speaking of staying long-term, when you welcome back a familiar employee, there’s a good chance they will be more loyal to the company because they appreciate you giving them a second chance.
While this isn’t always the case, of course, there are many situations in which former employees are eager to prove that you made the right call and are willing to go the extra mile as a result.
Because boomerang employees are more willing to go the extra mile, they have greater performance potential than they did in the past. They may have greater potential than some of your current team members, too!
If you want to fill vacancies more quickly and save money in the process, don’t underestimate the power of hiring boomerang employees.
It typically takes less time to rehire former employees than it does to start from scratch and recruit new people, partly because you don’t have to do as much interviewing and assessing since you already know them.
This truncated hiring time, in turn, can result in lower hiring costs.
Now, let’s address the downsides. Here are some issues you may encounter when rehiring former employees:
A significant factor to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to rehire an employee is why they left in the first place.
Did they storm out after losing their temper? Were they fired for breaking rules or engaging in unethical behaviour?
If an employee left under unfavourable circumstances, it might not be a good idea to rehire them – unless you’re confident they understand what they did wrong and are willing to make meaningful changes.
Maybe the employee left on reasonably good terms, but they’re not able to explain why they want to come back. If they can’t clarify why they want to work for your company again, that could be a sign that they’re not going to be as committed as you’d like your employees to be (especially those that you’re bringing back on after an absence).
Sometimes, employers are eager to welcome former employees back because they did such great work in the past. In other situations, though, they’re hesitant because the boomerang employee wasn’t a top performer when they previously worked for the company.
In these situations, employers have to make a judgment call and decide if they’re willing to give someone a second chance to do better work.
Ready to unlock the full potential of your team? Take a look at these 5 tips for improving team performance!
If an employee has been away from the company for many years, it might be harder for them to reintegrate. The business may have gone through significant changes since that person left, from using new technology to being owned by a different parent company. These changes, in turn, might mean that this employee is no longer the best person for a particular job.
There’s always a chance that, if someone left the company once, they’ll be willing to jump ship again if another seemingly better opportunity comes along. If that happens a second time, employers will once again find themselves scrambling to fill a vacancy or distribute work among the remaining team members.
Say you decide to go ahead and rehire a boomerang employee. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind to simplify their transition and reintegrate them into the company.
One of the first things employers wonder about when hiring boomerang employees is whether they should treat them as new hires or returning employees.
Although things may have changed at your company since the former employee left, there’s a good chance they still know the basics of how things work, what the company’s rules and values are, etc.
With that in mind, it’s best not to treat them as brand-new hires. Think of them as returning employees or alumni instead.
Alumni have a solid working knowledge of the business, their role, and what’s expected of them. That doesn’t mean they won’t need a refresher course, though.
During their first few weeks on the job, make sure alums understand any new tools or technologies they’re expected to use. Talk to them about policies or protocols that may have changed since they’ve been gone, too.
Here are some additional best practices to keep in mind when rehiring former employees who quit:
The first best practice is to conduct exit interviews whenever an employee decides to leave. An exit interview gives you a chance to find out why they’re quitting. It also allows you to learn what they liked and disliked about working at the company.
Next, use the information you gained during the exit interview to make positive changes to the company. It’s especially important to do this when you collect the same insights from multiple employees.
For example, suppose several people say that they’re leaving because they found an opportunity that pays better. In that case, that’s a sign that you might need to look into increasing your employees’ salaries.
There are plenty of models you can use or follow when looking to create change in your organisation. Why not dive into Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model – it’s one of the most popular approaches to managing change!
Even if you’re excited at the idea of working with a former employee again, don’t
rush into rehiring them. It’s okay to take your time and weigh the former employee against other candidates to ensure you’re choosing the right person for the job.
When interviewing a former employee and deciding whether or not you want to bring them back on, look for tangible changes in their work ethic, skills, attitude, etc.
Consider why they left in the first place and the circumstances under which they left. Then, consider whether or not they’re going to bring anything new and better to the table this time around.
Always take the rest of your team into account when considering rehiring a boomerang employee.
Think about how that person communicated and got along with their coworkers in the past (and consider how they’ll get along with new coworkers after being rehired).
Do they seem like they’ll fit in well with the current team, or has its structure changed so much that they might not be an asset?
Does the boomerang employee want a higher salary than they earned previously?
Do they want changes to their benefits package?
Be sure to address the technicalities of rehiring them before making a final decision. That way, you won’t encounter any surprises or have to manage conflict later down the road.
Remember, when you hire a boomerang employee, you’re bringing on an alumnus, not a brand-new hire. As such, the onboarding process should be different.
Work with your human resources team to create an abbreviated onboarding process that reviews everything they need to know, alerts them to any changes, and cuts out information they’re already familiar with.
If you’re still on the fence about rehiring a boomerang employee, these case studies might change your mind. Here are three stories of successful boomerang employees:
In an interview with Wired UK, Husnara Begum, a career management specialist, explained that a month after quitting her job, she returned to her old desk.
When asked about her reasoning for leaving and coming back, she said that the job she left for didn’t meet her expectations. She also found that it wasn’t a good cultural fit and noted that this was something she could only figure out firsthand.
Begum had a relatively easy time returning to her former position, though, because she was professional and polite during her resignation. She emphasised the importance of never burning bridges and maintaining a strong network.
An HR professional named Chris told the BBC about his experience as a boomerang employee. He explained that he left his job to work for a rival firm that was doing things in a new way (which his old company wasn’t ready to adopt).
Chris had a positive experience working for the new company and gained a range of skills that he wouldn’t have had a chance to develop at his former job. A couple of years later, he was approached by that former company and invited back to take on a bigger role – effectively, a promotion.
A woman named Marie Krebs also wrote about being a boomerang employee in an opinion piece for Sifted.
Her story was similar to Chris’s in that she was offered a position that her former company wasn’t ready to give her. Ultimately, like Husnara, Marie found that the new company wasn’t a good cultural fit, and she decided to reach back out to her old employer and ask for her job back.
She was welcomed back with open arms and found that the company had gone through positive changes in her absence, which allowed her to enjoy new challenges and continue growing in her career.
The decision to rehire a former employee should always be made on a case-by-case basis. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Here are some critical questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to rehire:
Think carefully about why the former employee left and the circumstances surrounding their exit.
If they left on a positive note, were open with their feedback, and worked hard to maintain positive connections, those are all signs that they will be a good addition to the team if they’re rehired.
Consider the strengths this former employee will bring to the team if you decide to rehire them. Will they be an asset and help the team achieve its goals?
Now, what about their weaknesses? In what ways could they potentially be a liability to the team?
Does the boomerang employee have specific and understandable reasons for wanting to return to their old job (or to return to the company in a new capacity)? If they can’t explain why they want to come back, that might be a sign that they’re just looking for any job and don’t really care about working for you, specifically, again.
Remember to think about your team and the employees who have remained loyal. Will they get along with this person if you rehire them? Will anyone have hard feelings (and potentially not want to continue working for you as a result)?
Last but not least, ask yourself if the benefits of rehiring this person will outweigh the potential costs (such as the time it might take to train them on a new tool or software). If the answer is yes, you will likely be able to rehire them without any regrets.
Are boomerang employees assets or challenges? Put simply, they can be both, depending on why they left the company, what they’ve been doing in the meantime, and why they’re returning.
If you’ve been considering rehiring a boomerang employee (or employees), use the information and tips shared in this guide so you can make an informed decision that is best for your company and its long-term success.
Are you searching for effective methods to onboard or train rehired employees?
MTD Training specialises in management development training and offers a range of solutions tailored to your business’s specific needs. Our bespoke leadership development programme, is designed to address unique challenges and objectives.
Additionally, for those aiming to enhance their management and leadership abilities, we provide a variety of team leader courses. These include both face-to-face management skills courses and online management training options.
Updated on: 10 January, 2024
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