Boomerang Employees

Everything You Need to Know About Boomerang Employees

6 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Lynsey Sutherland

If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to an employee only to have them pop back up in your application pile months or even years later, this is the article for you. 

Boomerang employees are a trending topic right now, especially as we move out of The Great Resignation and into what’s being dubbed The Great Regret. Businesses across the world are seeing an influx in the number of employees reapplying for roles at their organisations, take LinkedIn for example, their data shows that 4.5% of its new hires were boomerang workers in 2021, compared to 3.9% in 2019.

Boomerang employees might make you feel wary, but there can be some big benefits to rehiring someone – if the circumstances are right. The real skill comes in knowing when to welcome someone back into the team and how to go about it. 

What is a boomerang employee?

A boomerang employee is someone who chooses to leave an organisation and then returns at a later date. It doesn’t refer to employees who leave because their short-term contracts were up or who leave due to redundancy. There are lots of different reasons that a boomerang employee might choose to say goodbye in the first place, including:

  • The hope of furthering their career or finding opportunities they didn’t feel they were getting at your organisation
  • Taking time out for a major life event, such as having a baby or becoming a full-time carer
  • The desire to follow a dream or passion, whether that’s travelling or experimenting with other talents
  • The need to recover from a high-pressure situation or suffering from employee burnout

The current boomerang employee trend 

Boomerang employees aren’t a new phenomenon, people have been finding reasons to leave and then changing their mind forever, but we’re hearing about it more and more at the moment. 

It’s likely that the Great Resignation, which saw a historic number of people leave their jobs in 2021, is one big driving factor. These record-breaking resignations signalled a significant shift in attitude as employees set their sights on new experiences following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. 

However, the hunt for new pastures didn’t prove fruitful for everyone. In fact, a survey by Joblist found that over one in four people surveyed regretted their decision to quit and that 42% felt their new job didn’t live up to their expectations. 

Why do boomerang employees come back?

There can be a few different factors that tempt employees back to a previous employer, including:

  • Finding that their new roles or organisations don’t offer the same benefits they expected
  • Recovering from a stressful time or period and feeling ready to re-enter their previous role or profession 
  • Discovering that the company culture in a new position isn’t as good as the one they left behind
  • Hearing that policies and benefits have improved in the time they’ve been away. For example, the introduction of flexible working or new wellbeing or diversity and inclusion initiatives

The pros of hiring boomerang employees

As you can imagine, many benefits come with taking an employee back, including time and money-saving benefits. Here’s why you might consider hiring someone back:

  • They already understand your organisation’s values, which means it’s more likely that they think they’re a good fit with their own values. 
  • Old employees can bring fresh insight and outside perspectives into what is working in your organisation and what isn’t.
  • Familiarity with some processes, software and policies. This means the onboarding process should be smoother and training processes shorter. 
  • They’re likely to bring new skills and ideas back with them. They may have also made new connections that could prove useful.
  • They have seen what it’s like to work elsewhere and may be more inclined to appreciate the things that make your workplace unique. 
  • They might even boost retention as they share their experiences with colleagues and point out that the grass isn’t always greener. 

The cons of hiring boomerang employees

Of course, it’s not always plain sailing. There are a few things that could have a negative impact too. Boomerang employees:

  • Could find it tricky to adjust if processes have changed in the time they’ve been away.
  • May not always be the best candidate. There’s a chance that you might overlook someone new in favour of a familiar face. 
  • They’re likely to have changed while they’ve been away. This isn’t necessarily negative, but it may mean they’re not as good a fit as they once were.
  • They might have some unresolved issues with other employees, especially if it felt like they left anyone in the lurch. 

How to onboard a boomerang employee

Onboarding, or rather reboarding, an existing employee can present a unique set of challenges for managers to overcome. With that in mind, here are our top tips for hiring back boomerang employees: 

Have a chat, talk it out

Managers interviewing boomerang employees will have a lot more to cover than the standard interview questions. Before you go ahead and offer them the job, it’s important to get an idea of why they left. 

You might already have a copy of this from their exit interview, but it’s important to discuss why they left in the first place and what, if anything, has brought them back to you. 

It will also be good to understand why they’re leaving their current employer, especially if it’s the employer they left your business to go and work for. This will give insight into why they’re returning and whether or not they plan on sticking around. 

Finally, you might want to mention things that have changed since the employee left – whether that’s new processes or a shift in management. This is also an opportunity to touch on things that have remained if you know they were one of the reasons why they left. 

Reboarding process

The onboarding process for a boomerang employee should be a little more straightforward than with someone entirely new. That said, don’t be tricked into thinking it’s unnecessary to have them follow your current onboarding strategy. Boomerang employees should be allowed to learn and ask questions similar to how new hires would.

Did they leave on good terms?

It can be tempting to welcome back former employees with open arms, especially if you’re struggling to fill roles and have a team working extra hard to cover the staff shortage. 

However, you might want to think twice about those staff who didn’t work their notice period or had poor relationships with managers and colleagues. That’s not to say people shouldn’t get a second chance – you just need them to demonstrate that they (or the circumstances leading to their resignation) have changed.

How does this impact your other employees?

It’s important to consider how your current employees will feel about boomerang employees and whether their return could ruffle feathers. 

Before you commit to rehiring an employee, it’s best to let your team know first, as this allows them to ask any questions, raise concerns or share some insight into what it’s like to work with that person. The last thing you want is to fill a gap in your workforce only for them to be a reason why you lose another. 

Be humble

It takes guts to quit a job thinking you’re going after a better opportunity to end up asking for your old job back. While some past employees may be returning out of choice, others may do it out of necessity.

When you find yourself in this situation, focus on how great it is to have this person back on the team and what you can do differently this time to help them thrive and enjoy their work. 

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