Cut & Polish

Boomerang Employees – The Next Hottest Recruiting Trend

We're living through some wild times. The great resignation, reorganization, reshuffle, or whatever you want to call it – from feast to famine, hiring freezes and layoffs to a white-hot talent market, recruiters have been pulled onto a roller coaster ride that nobody wanted. 

The current upswing in hiring and mass exodus of employees has left many organizations scrambling to fill roles. This has resulted in some humorous stories like a restaurant advertising they “will hire anyone willing to show up” and some more outrageous ones like tech companies paying 500 euros to anyone who interviews or offering one month’s salary as a signing bonus. However, all jokes aside, stories like these show that companies are becoming increasingly desperate to attract and retain workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 11.4 million job openings in the U.S. as of April 2022 and only about 5.9 million unemployed workers – leaving more than 5 million open jobs with nobody to fill them. To add to this pressure sourcers and recruiters are facing, 47.8 million workers quit their jobs last year, an average of nearly 4 million each month. What’s more, a staggering estimated 28% of them quit without having a new role lined up. But many workers are coming to find that the grass is not always greener on the other side. 

With talent acquisition teams stretched thinner than ever and many former employees wishing to return, companies are now looking to an often-overlooked talent pool to fill their ever-increasing number of open reqs – boomerang employees. 

What are boomerang employees? 

Boomerang employees are workers who leave a company for some time to work at another organization and then return – like a boomerang (nobody strained any mental muscles coming up with this term). These boomerang employees may have left for better salaries or benefits, personal reasons, family obligations, company layoffs, desire for new challenges, etc. Still, they are generally on good terms with their teams and the company as a whole (i.e., they weren’t fired for poor performance, discrimination, harassment, etc.).

While the concept of boomerang employees is not new, the waves of layoffs and attrition brought about as after-effects of COVID and of course, the Great Resignation have all amplified the number of workers looking to return to their former companies. A 2022 study of more than 2,500 workers by job search site The Muse found that 72% of people who quit their jobs experienced either “surprise or regret” that the new position or new company they quit for turned out to be “very different” from what they were led to believe.

“I left Gem in 2020 during a turbulent time for almost all companies. However, I quickly realized the new company’s focus and goals were not aligned with mine, and I regretted leaving the Gem team, culture, and management. Luckily, I was brought up to never burn bridges, and so was Gem, and within four months, I was able to return to my role working in some new verticals with a renewed drive and passion for my work. After seeing what life was like working for another company, I saw that the grass was not, in fact, greener. I’m so glad I found Gem… twice! I couldn’t see myself working anywhere else.” – Nolan Kelly, Strategic Account Executive 

Benefits of rehiring boomerang employees

The sense of “buyer’s remorse” workers feel about their new roles and the unprecedented competition for top talent make rehiring boomerang employees more enticing than ever. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider rehiring an alumni employee at your organization:

  • Lower risk of a “bad hire” – A bad hire can come in many forms. It may be a person who misrepresented their skills or qualifications during the interview process, a poor company fit, a bad attitude, etc. While the organizational cost associated with a bad hire varies based on things like industry, role, and seniority, there is a very real cost of time, money, and damage to your employer brand from making a bad hire. One of the biggest benefits of hiring a boomerang employee is that you know they fit well in the organization. You know their personality and work ethic, which drastically reduces the risk of them being a bad hire (assuming they were a good employee originally). 
  • Quicker onboarding – Boomerang employees come into their positions with a wealth of institutional knowledge cultivated throughout their time at your organization – meaning they will likely spend much less time learning and more time doing. Whether they are returning to their previous role or stepping into a new position, a boomerang employee’s ramp-up time will be shorter than that of a net-new employee. 
  • Market/competitive knowledge – Boomerang employees may have decided to branch out and explore new markets or roles, giving them a perspective and skill set they can bring back to their role at your organization. Alternatively, they may have gone to work for a competitor in your industry. In this case, they will have valuable inside knowledge of your competitor that may be useful to your organization. 
  • Reduced recruiting costs – You likely already know your cost per hire for certain roles, and with the competition for talent at an all-time high, you’ve likely seen it go up in recent months. Because past employees already know about your company, have gone through the interview process, and (hopefully) want to return, you can skip many stages of the hiring process – saving time and resources associated with finding a net-new candidate. In fact, research by Portland State University found that hiring boomerang employees can save companies between one-third to two-thirds of recruiting costs.
  • Strengthened employer brand – This is more of a qualitative metric than a quantitative one, but hiring boomerang employees provides a twofold boost to your employer brand. For future candidates, it shows that your organization is more desirable than others; and for current employees, seeing someone come back to your company after seeing what else is out there deters them from leaving in the first place.   

Considerations when rehiring boomerang employees

Right now, thinking about hiring back boomerang employees may sound great, but unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some important things to consider when rehiring boomerang employees: 

  • Why they left – One important consideration when rehiring boomerang employees is thinking about the reason(s) why they left in the first place. Otherwise, you run the risk of rehiring an employee just to have them leave again. A good place to start would be to work with HR to review the issues the employee brought up in their exit interview (if they had one) and make sure you have addressed them before bringing them back. 
  • Motivations for returning – Motivation is a crucial piece of the puzzle for rehiring boomerang employees as it will give you insight into how likely they are to excel in their new (old) role and remain at your organization for a long time. Before welcoming them back with open arms, you should be clear about why the employee wants to come back to your organization. Are they just running away from their current company and looking for any other opportunity? Or do they really miss your organization, the role they had, their team, or the coffee?
  • Their performance – This almost goes without saying, but a boomerang employee candidate should have been a good employee to begin with. While the idea of a boomerang employee may be enticing, it’s important to take an objective look at their job performance and how well they fit within your organization and compare that to what is available from the current talent market. Surveying a potential boomerang employee’s former manager and even team members will give you an idea of whether or not it would be a good idea to bring them back.  

Tips for hiring boomerang employees

Build a strong alumni community – With everyone being so connected these days, it’s easy for managers and recruiters to keep in contact with alumni employees. Every past employee is a potential customer, business partner, referral source, and of course, a potential boomerang employee. Building a strong alumni community that provides past employees with networking opportunities, company updates, new job postings, etc., allows you to show them how things are changing and entice them to come back. Gem’s Talent CRM will enable you to set up targeted nurture campaigns that showcase boomerang employee success stories, alumni hiring events, etc that will keep your organization top of mind for potential boomerangs.

Treat boomerangs like (sort of) new employees – Onboarding for new employees is incredibly important for building team cohesion, excitement about the company/brand, and much more. However, since the boomerang employee has gone through onboarding once before, they may not be so keen to do it again. Consider how long it has been since they first went through onboarding, as well as how long they have been gone from the company. If it’s been three or more years, consider having them go through it again. If it’s only been one or two years, maybe consider offering them the opportunity to onboard fully again or just go over the changes that have occurred within your org since they left. Giving a boomerang employee the opportunity to be a “new employee” will allow them to learn about what’s changed and reinvigorate them to bring new excitement to their role.

Pro tip: The onboarding phase is also a perfect time to positively recognize and celebrate boomerang employees. They can act as a culture champion for new hire cohorts and support their decision to join your organization.

Offer flexibility and control – The ups and downs, lockdowns, and canceled plans of the past two years have left a lot of people feeling powerless. According to Amy Cuddy, Social Psychologist and Harvard lecturer, some people have changed jobs to regain a sense of control in their lives. At the same time, a better salary is still at or near the top of the list of reasons why people quit their jobs last year. Research shows that flexibility in working location (i.e., WFH options), hours, etc. are on the rise as top attractors for talent. A 2021 study by Limeade found that 40% of workers were attracted to their current positions because of the flexibility they offered. Furthermore, only 29% of those surveyed changed jobs for a pay increase, 23% earned the same amount, and a surprising 13% took a pay cut. 

This isn’t to suggest that you pay your employees less than the market rate just because they can work from home – salary is still a huge factor, especially in attracting new talent to your organization. However, people’s priorities have changed over the past two years, and perhaps your organization has also changed to accommodate employees’ desire for autonomy and flexibility. If so, think about reaching out to those former employees who left for remote or hybrid positions to see if they are open to coming back in light of these organizational changes.

Show boomerangs what’s changed – This goes back to thinking about why an employee left in the first place. Maybe they didn’t like their manager, were afraid of layoffs, or wanted more responsibility. If you’re thinking about rehiring a boomerang employee, you must ensure that the issue(s) that caused them to leave have been resolved and show them how and why they have changed. 

For example, if an employee left because they reevaluated their lives due to the pandemic and realized they wanted to travel more, explain that your organization has now implemented a more generous PTO or FTO policy. Or, if they left due to fears of being laid off, show them how your organization has changed or restructured to become more resilient and resistant to market pressure. Otherwise, you risk rehiring a boomerang employee just to have them leave again once they realize the issues that made them leave in the first place still exist at your organization.                                                                 

With TA teams under more pressure than ever to find candidates and fill roles in today's job climate, boomerang employees offer an enticing value proposition for employers. Boomerangs have a unique mixture of institutional knowledge and new skills gained from their time spent outside of your organization. They onboard quicker, mitigate your risk of a bad hire and strengthen your employer brand. However, when considering rehiring a boomerang employee, it’s critically important to take an objective look at their reasons for leaving, their motivations for returning, and their performance relative to the available talent pool to ensure you are getting a “good deal” by bringing them back. 

What are your thoughts about hiring boomerang employees? Have you hired them before? Have they succeeded at your organization after returning? Let us know!

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Whatever this post brought up for you, we'd love to hear it.

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