Once upon a time when you left an organization, you didn’t come back. Partly it was because people didn’t want to — other employment opportunities seemed abundant for the skilled — and partly it was because organizations impugned the motives and even the character of anybody who would walk out.
Needless to say, times have changed. From the employee’s perspective, good jobs are harder to come by, and from the employer’s, good employees don’t grow on trees. And as a result, the once-unimaginable — returning to a company you once left — has become a thing.
The degree to which attitudes about so-called “boomerang” employees have changed for the better is underscored by a recent survey carried out by consulting firm Kronos and workplacetrends.com. The pollsters contacted more than 1,800 HR people, managers and employees, and asked various questions about their views on and experiences with the boomerang phenomenon.
Perhaps the most telling stat emerging from the survey was the 76% of HR professionals who said they were more likely now to hire a former employee than in the past. Almost half of the HR people contacted said their organization previously had a policy against rehiring such employees, even those who left in good standing, but this had changed. And fully 85% of the HR people said they’d received job applications from former employees in the last five years.
Confirming the latter trend, almost 40% of employees said they would consider returning to a company where they once worked. (Some 15% had actually done so.) Younger employees were more likely to boomerang, with 46% of Millennials saying they’d be willing to, compared with 33% of Xers and 29% of Boomers.
The advantages of hiring ex-employees back are obvious: They understand the culture, they’re experienced at the work, they know the people. They’re cheaper to recruit and they’re quicker to get up and running. Also, if they had a bad or mediocre experience with the employer they joined when they left you, they may be even more appreciative of your organization the second time around.
Calculating the risks
But let’s not forget that there are risks, too. Something made that person leave months or years ago, and that something might still exist.
If it was a bad manager who is now gone, fine. But what if the would-be boomeranger never really enjoyed the work all that much, and is coming back pretty much just for the money and/or the security? You may be rehiring somebody who isn’t going to be engaged, and may be off yet again as soon as a better opportunity presents itself elsewhere.
If you are interested in rehiring a boomerang employee, you need to get down to brass tacks with them first. Ask:
- Why they left in the first place. You may have done an exit interview at the time, and think you know why, but the passage of time can make people clearer about their motives.
- What makes them want to come back. Listen hard for rationalizations or evasions. If they’ve had a bad time elsewhere, or have lost a job or think they’re in danger of doing so, they could see you merely as a port in the storm.
- Whether they think the employment relationship will prove more durable this time, and why. The “why” is key here. Probe for indications that they’ve grown, or come to new realizations about themselves and/or your organization.
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