In life and work, goodbyes aren’t always forever. Survey data from the Society for Human Resources Management shows that over 85% of recruiting leaders have received former employees’ resumes. Over three-quarters say they’re receptive to rehiring them.
“Boomerang” employees are individuals who leave a company but later return, either in the same or a different role. Under the right circumstances, rehiring boomerang employees isn’t just a way to save on sourcing; it could be your talent strategy’s competitive edge.
Rehiring past employees isn’t just common, it may be preferable. When asked for their thoughts, HR and business leaders shared some of the most compelling benefits of welcoming boomerang employees back.
“They already have the DNA of your company and associate themselves with your employer brand, which means that they’re more likely to stay loyal to it,” said Anna Popova, Head of HR at DDI Development. If an employee left on good terms, Popova believes they’re usually a safer bet for hiring managers. Besides bringing institutional knowledge and a deep familiarity with your culture, they also know the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.
“I’ve had the experience of rehiring former employees many times. There’s nothing awkward about the situation,” she said.
Others considered boomerang employees a competitive advantage. Former employees who have spent time in a different industry and up-leveled their skills bring a fresh perspective. They also don’t require a lot of time to ramp up. In one HR professional’s view, while your top preference should be to develop talent from within, having someone else do it for you might be the next best option.
“Fortunately, when someone leaves, it’s usually caused by an employee's eagerness to explore, try new things, and find the right place. It's nothing personal,” said Pete Sosnowski, VP of People at Zety. Benefiting from experience elsewhere, boomerang employees tend to be more skilled, well-rounded versions of their former selves. “When they come back after a few years, they bring new experiences, contacts, customers, or at least a fresh point of view,” Sosnowski said.
While there are benefits to hiring boomerang employees, doing so isn’t always a good idea. As a first step, recruiters and hiring managers should consider why the former employee left to begin with — even if their departure was voluntary and on good terms.
“My advice is to understand the reasoning behind the decision to leave the company in the first place. Was it about career development, higher pay, major life events, or a gap year to travel?” said Jessica Lim, HR Manager at LiveCareer. If an employee chose to leave because they felt professionally “stuck,” for example, are you positioned to deliver learning and development opportunities this time? “Finding out why an employee left and what triggered them to reapply is crucial,” Lim said, not just for your company’s sake but for the rehire’s long-term satisfaction.
HR teams have to do their due diligence. In addition to speaking with former managers and peers, Timothy G. Wiedman, Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources at Doane University, recommends checking the documentation. If you use HR software to document past performance, pulling a report on this should be simple.
“Former employees almost always have easily verified track records. Their old performance evaluations are likely available, their attendance records are easily checked, and their ability to complete assignments on time is generally known,” Wiedman said. If a potential boomerang hasn’t worked at your company for years, this paper trail might be the only clue you have. It might also be your only means of ascertaining whether they’ve grown since leaving.
Your company’s relationship with its employees doesn’t have to end post-departure. By fostering a sense of community among company “alumni,” you can build a network of brand ambassadors and future boomerangs. Using LinkedIn, Slack communities, and email distribution lists, you can keep former employees posted on open roles, company news, and even networking “reunions.”
“Create online communities to help engage alumni and show how the company is evolving and growing. These can also be used to promote vacancies, particularly those which require specialist knowledge which may be of particular interest to alumni,” said Adam P. Gordon, cofounder of PTO Genius. To sweeten the deal, offer a “re-signing” bonus to those who successfully interview for open roles. You might even consider extending your internal referral program’s rewards to former employees who send candidates your way.
Alumni programs and incentives like these help — but above all, encouraging future boomerangs requires companies to change how they respond to departures. As one leader put it, leaving your company should feel like a “graduation, not a breakup.”
“Celebrate when people leave and keep track of where they go. The business world is smaller than you think, and word travels quickly. Be the company that empowers its people to not only grow but to leave, and you will see that many will return as a result,” said George Mazzella, cofounder of The Suite.
The employee-employer relationship doesn’t have to end after the exit interview. When it makes sense for both the company and individual, welcoming boomerang employees back can positively impact your culture and bottom line.
Have you had success with hiring boomerang employees? Share your experience with other HR professionals by joining our online Slack community, Resources for Humans.