The decades-old philosophy was that once an employee left the company, they shouldn’t be allowed to return. But employers are changing their tune and realising the benefits of ‘boomerang employees’, says Amanda Augustine
It’s safe to say the past two years have brought about many changes to the workplace. Spurred on by a global pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, individuals across all professions began reevaluating their work-lives and exploring alternative paths with a new set of priorities.
Business leaders watched as droves of employees left to chase their entrepreneurial dreams, work in a different sector, or try their hand at a fully remote job in another part of the country. Others — particularly working mothers — left the workforce altogether to accommodate their children’s care and education. However, not everyone who quit their job amid the Great Resignation is feeling confident with their decision. A survey of 5,000 employees across the US and the UK discovered that 75% of participants expressed an interest in maintaining contact with their previous employer after giving their notice.
This change of heart amongst employees, coupled with widespread hiring shortages, is leading many workplace experts, including Anthony Klotz, the organisational psychologist and professor at Texas A&M University who coined the ‘Great Resignation’, to predict that the next major workplace trend is hiring ‘boomerang employees’.
What is a boomerang employee?
Simply put, a boomerang employee is one who leaves their employer and returns after some period of time. The employee’s departure could have been the result of a new job opportunity, a personal reason, or because they were let go as part of a downsizing, restructuring, or other reason unrelated to the individual’s behaviour or performance.
While the concept of the ‘boomerang’ employee is not new, it hadn’t been embraced by most businesses in the past. The decades-old philosophy was that once an employee left the company, they shouldn’t be allowed to return. However, employers are increasingly changing their tune and realising the benefits of boomerang employees.
The benefits of boomerang employees
Hiring boomerang employees can be highly beneficial to your business. Returning employees are already familiar with the company’s culture and operations and will require less training and ramp-up time before they are productive team members. Oftentimes, these boomerang employees return with new skills or experiences that will enhance their work. In addition, the optics of hiring boomerang employees can strengthen your recruitment efforts and overall employee morale. After all, if former employees are returning to the company, it sends the signal that your business is a great place to work. On top of that, it shows that your organisation respects its employees and is capable of parting ways with staff in a professional manner.
How to know who to welcome back
Of course, not every employee who quit their job or who is laid off from your company will be fit to return as a boomerang employee. It’s important to consider the circumstances under which the employee left in the first place before deciding whether or not this individual should receive a new job offer. Ask yourself the following questions:
For employees who are laid-off:
- How was the employee performing in the three-to-six months prior to their departure? Were they doing as well as could be expected during that time? What was their track record?
- Was the employee getting along with the team and their manager? Did you consider them to be a good cultural fit?
- How did they react when they received the news that they were to be laid off? Did they rant about the company on social media or did they remain civil?
- Did you or the employee attempt to stay in touch with each other afterwards?
For employees who resigned:
- How did they communicate the news of their resignation? Did they send an email or schedule a video conference or an in-person meeting to break the news?
- How was their performance in the months leading up to their resignation?
- Was the employee a good fit with the team? Did they help to boost or drain employee morale?
- What was their reason for leaving in the first place?
- How has the company changed since the employee left? What has remained the same?
Understanding the employee’s motivation for resigning is particularly key. Consider what information the employee directly communicated to you and what you can glean from their exit interview with HR. While you might not have full access to the exit interview, you should be able to ask your HR department for the highlights or relevant details to aid your decision. The HR professional who conducted the interview should also have good insight into whether rehiring this employee is the right move, so be certain to include them in this decision-making process if you can.
If the individual left because of personal reasons – for example, they needed to focus on caring for a sick family member or managing their children while in lock-down – then it’s safe to assume these reasons will not be an issue moving forward.
If the employee left to explore a different career path, try out a new industry, or work for a bigger or smaller company, be certain to address this move in your conversation with them. If the employee tried something new and learnt it was not for them, then they may return with a newfound appreciation for their position within your company.
However, if the person left because they weren’t happy with the company culture, described the organisation as ‘toxic’ or ‘dysfunctional’, or were looking for an employer whose values more closely aligned with their own, returning to your group is most likely not be in everyone’s best interests if nothing has really changed at the company.
Address these matters head-on: if your company has made changes, share exactly what has been done and when without embellishing the truth. However, if the company hasn’t made any substantial changes, then be direct and tell the former employee exactly that.
Ask your former employee more about what they did after they left your company, what they learnt during that time – about themselves, their career goals, and any specific skills or experience they developed – and also why they’re interested in rejoining.
All of these details will help you determine if having this former employee rejoin the team is in the best interests of both the company and the individual.
How to say good-bye without burning bridges
In order to reap the benefits of boomerang employees, you must first learn how to end your professional relationship amicably so the door remains open for future conversations. This starts with how you handle the lay-off and resignation process.
Don’t take it personally. If an employee has decided to resign from your team, it’s important to not view this decision as a personal attack. While you may not be happy to lose a good employee, sometimes events are outside of your control. Remind yourself that this is business; it’s not personal. Don’t bash the person to others, regardless of how things ended. There’s no point in burning bridges.
Communicate with care. A TopCV poll found that the No. 1 reason for employee dissatisfaction during the first year of the pandemic was poor communication, particularly when employers failed to communicate quickly, often, and/or effectively about major issues such as layoffs. If you must lay-off individuals, handle the communication with dignity and respect. Schedule a 1-to-1 video call (or in-person meeting, if possible) to speak ‘face to face’ with the employee. Show empathy for their situation, avoid blaming others, and offer guidance to the employee as they are transitioning out.
Conduct your own exit interview. While HR will likely conduct a comprehensive exit interview with anyone who resigns from the company, you can also ask your staff member questions before they leave. This conversation often takes place when the employee sets up a meeting with you to resign, so it’s good form to have a small list of questions prepared for such occasions. These include:
- Why are you leaving? Why did you start looking for another job? (if relevant)
- What could I have done better or differently?
- Would you ever consider returning to this company?
- What qualities do you think I should look for in your replacement? Should we make any updates to your job description?
- Is there any other information or feedback you’d like to share with me at this time?
These questions will give you some fodder to consider how you’re running your team, what to look for in a replacement, and to gauge whether or not this individual may be a good candidate for returning to the organisation in the future.
How to keep the relationship alive once they’re gone
If you had a good working relationship with an employee prior to their departure, it only makes sense to put in an effort to maintain that relationship moving forward.
Apply some of the same networking best practices you would use for any valuable contact. For example, consider setting up a virtual or in-person coffee chat about three months after the employee has left the company. This gives you a chance to catch up and see how your former colleague is faring in their new role.
In addition, if you come across an article, conference, or training opportunity that you think would be of interest to your former employee, pass it along via LinkedIn or their personal email. These impromptu communications will help you stay in touch and keep a pulse on the individual without taking up much of your time.
Ultimately, you must remember that how you treat employees as they walk out the door — and afterwards — can impact the reputation of both you and your employer for a long time to come. It’s better to end your business relationship amicably, as you never know when your paths may cross again.
Amanda Augustine is the resident careers expert for TopCV, the largest CV-writing service in the world, and its sister brands, TopInterview, TopResume, and Resume.io. With 15 years of experience in the recruiting and career services industry, she is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW), helping professionals improve their careers and find the right job sooner. Follow Amanda on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for her latest advice.