The Benefits and Risks of Rehiring a Boomerang Employee

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alumniex Author

In today’s competitive labor market, returning employees can be invaluable hires.

Originally Published: MIT Sloan

As companies continue to struggle to fill open roles, former employees represent a potentially untapped pool of talent. These “boomerang” employees who return to their former employers have in today’s labor market become far more numerous than in years past.

While no organization plans for a valuable employee to exit, it can be incredibly beneficial — for the company as well as the employee — when they return after some time away. These returning employees already know the organization’s ins, outs, and nuances, and understand the employer’s expectations and company culture. In a job market where talent competition is at an all-time high, looking to those already familiar with your organization could be a competitive advantage for a few key reasons.

Onboarding speed: Employees who have boomeranged back into the organization tend to ramp up much faster than new hires. If they’re returning to the same position, they’re well aware of what their role entails, though they may need to learn about changes to work patterns implemented since they left the organization. If they’re being hired for a different role, their learning curve is still far lower than a new hire’s because of their knowledge of the company, making the transition easier from the start. In either case, the boomerang’s foundational understanding of the social systems that underpin the organization gives them a clear advantage over new hires who have to learn these nuances from the ground up. This is especially true in large organizations with complex systems, divisions, and hierarchies.

Performance: Boomerang employees are typically more satisfied and more committed than external hires. Because of this, they also perform at higher levels than their peers, secure better performance reviews compared with new hires, and are more likely to be promoted than non-boomerang peers. Rehires also bring unique skills and experiences that can significantly benefit an organization. For example, their time away, perhaps even within a competitor, might give them a fresh perspective and valuable insights on how the organization has grown and changed; perhaps they have a new outlook on the market itself. The boomerang employee’s precious insights can inject a team with the energy it needs to continue to grow.

Costs: It’s expensive to attract, onboard, and retain talent. It costs about $30,000 to $45,000, for example, to replace an employee earning $60,000 per year. Keeping hiring costs down is especially important now, amid the current labor shortage. Another benefit of hiring boomerang workers is that employers save between one-third and two-thirds on recruiting costs. Companies take a risk with every hire, but the risk is lessened with boomerang employees.

What’s Different This Time?

The most significant risk of rehiring boomerang employees is that they could leave the organization again, forcing it back to square one. Setting up a boomerang hire for success thus requires some extra planning. Both employee and employer must be precisely clear on what’s different this time around, and both must accept mutual growth and change. On what terms did the employee previously leave? Are those factors being addressed with the new role, or will the employee continue to be a flight risk? It’s also essential to make sure that the employee’s intentions align with the employer’s. Is this person running away from the new job they left to take? Do they have clarity around their reasons for returning, and can they clearly explain them? These are just a few questions that need to be considered before rehiring; the answers will help drive the right onboarding and reentry processes.

When rejoining the company, a rehire will expect the same processes, organizational structure, pay rates, and the like to remain the same — but expectations that go unmet can drive dissatisfaction. Therefore, before making a rehire, set crystal-clear expectations: Encourage the former employee to ask questions surrounding salary, company culture, and any changes that have happened since they left. Be thorough and explicit in explaining any improvements made or changes enacted since the boomerang’s departure.

And don’t skip onboarding. Although it may seem like the employee is already well versed in the organization, a reintroduction is critically important. Treating the employee like they are new is a great way to reground them in your employment brand and get them excited about what has changed. Poor onboarding raises the risk of losing the employee again, so tailor the experience to their needs, and personalize the process to identify and address knowledge gaps.

Finally, don’t forget the rest of the team members, who also need preparation before a boomerang’s re-arrival. For example, suppose a boomerang employee returns to a significantly different team structure. In that case, it’s crucial to understand how they will react to a new dynamic rather than sticking to “the way things were done before.” Likewise, if they are returning to a similar team, determine whether there are any previous relationship issues that need to be addressed. Depending on the circumstances, a boomerang may hold grudges against other employees or managers they previously worked with, which can harm team morale.

Traditionally, organizations seeking to fill internal roles choose one of two options: Externally hire, or find from within. Though this dichotomy is often accepted as unavoidable, there is a promising third option worth considering: boomerang employees, who offer the benefits of both external perspective and internal knowledge. In today’s competitive job market, your best next hire may be a rehire.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Laker (@drbenlaker) is a professor of leadership at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School and coauthor of Too Proud to Lead: How Hubris Can Destroy Effective Leadership and What to Do About It (Bloomsbury, 2021).