It seems like nearly all companies in the U.S. are still working to place talent in open roles, leaving few stones unturned. But have they considered past employees?
Boomerang employees are workers who return to an organization they previously left. They are familiar with the company’s culture, business and processes, so they have a leg up over hires from outside of the organization, meaning faster time to productivity.
In 2019, 3.9% of new hires were boomerang employees, rising to 4.5% in 2021, according to LinkedIn findings via the Wall Street Journal. Managers tend to be open to the prospect of hiring boomerang staff: According to the Workforce Institute, 65% of managers would take back top and moderate performers. Additionally, 16% of managers would hire any former staff.
While I think it’s great to be open-minded in talent searches, I caution against desperately hiring any former staff. Be sure to consider a few factors before rushing into a decision.
Is hiring boomerang talent a good idea?
Whether or not an organization should consider boomerang talent depends on many factors. Like any group, be careful not to paint them all with a broad brush. According to SHRM, hiring managers should consider the reasons a potential boomerang employee gave for their first time leaving. If they left on good terms—like to be with family or if they were laid off due to an economic downturn—their return could be positive.
SHRM also advises considering how much the organization has changed. If the company culture is dramatically different than when the potential boomerang first worked there, they might have trouble adapting to the new norms.
The boomerang employee already understands the business and how the company operates, meaning they require less onboarding and time to productivity than a new hire. Plus, their familiarity with the company culture—if it hasn’t changed—could help reinforce it for the broader organization. Boomerang talent has often gained valuable knowledge and experience during their time away from the organization, returning with insights into the industry, ideas for improving organizational processes and more.
Returning to an organization can even be a boost for the employee. In fact, a study called “A Phenomenological Study of the Boomerang-Employment Experience of Scientists and Engineers” found that for every engineer studied, “boomerang employment appears to have supported their positive progression along a satisfying career pathway.”
According to a 2020 study titled “Welcome Back? Job Performance and Turnover of Boomerang Employees Compared to Internal and External Hires,” managers who boomerang have similar performance in both their first and second time working for an organization. Their performance is even similar to the other managers who were hired internally or from outside of the organization. However, those managers tended to improve their performance over time, more so than the boomerang managers. Ultimately, when boomerang managers leave the organization for the second time, they tend to leave for similar reasons as their initial departure.
Whether or not the organization hires a boomerang employee, it’s advisable to consider how the company has changed over time and what can be done to improve the working environment for current and future employees. Making an honest effort to understand the reasons for turnover is likely to help improve turnover and tenure metrics over time for the whole organization.
The Power Of Alumni Networks
The reality is that in this job market, organizational leaders should be doing whatever they can to make their companies attractive ones to work for. Otherwise, the competition is likely to poach top talent and gain a competitive advantage. Improving your employer brand helps to attract employees from all walks.
If organizational leadership is determined to make the employee experience better over time, boomerang employees are likely to see that. Then, a strong network of current and former staff will be more likely to return. This alumni network is a critical component of the organization’s ability to attract boomerang talent. But what does it entail?
One option is to create a LinkedIn group and consider hosting casual get-togethers to remain connected to past staff. A periodic newsletter touchpoint could also get the word out. If your organization is small enough, simply messaging people individually could be incredibly effective.
The aforementioned “Phenomenological Study” of scientists and engineers advises that organizations actually identify potential boomerang employees or those who would be most likely to return to an organization. The study mentions the factor of location—for those who would need to be in-person—and I’d like to add additional factors such as people who are high-potential, have positive relationships in the organization, remain connected to others on staff, and seek to constantly challenge themselves through things such as stretch assignments, certifications or educational advancements.
By keeping these strong contenders in mind as roles open up, hiring managers can then tap those high-performing potential boomerangs individually. This shouldn’t be a generic message, but rather a thoughtful reconnection, conversation and a compelling value proposition for returning.
Even if past staff doesn’t return, these networking opportunities and regular touchpoints could be a great way to reinforce a strong employer brand, get referrals for talent acquisition and see how far the organization has come.
“Can Boomerang Employees Fill Talent Gaps?” originally appeared on Forbes.com.