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Boomerang employees are people who leave your organisation and then want to return a few years later. The question is – is that a good thing or a huge mistake? 

Are boomerang employees a good thing?

Businesses are starting to pay more attention to boomerang employees. In 2015, a study of HR professionals by Kronos Incorporated and found that nearly half said their organisations had previously refused to rehire former employees, but 76% said they’re now more accepting of boomerang employees than in the past. 

So why have they reconsidered? At best, boomerangers bring new networks and opportunities and are a natural cultural fit. At worst, you’ll find yourself dealing with old problems from the past. Let’s look at the pros and cons of rehiring employees.

Boomerang Employees: the Pros

Fast-track recruitment

Rehiring past employees means you can fast-track the recruitment process. You still need to go through a process but you probably won’t need to get references because you already know the person and you can reduce the number of interviews – one will probably be enough. Also while you might still advertise the position, you won’t need to go quite as wide in your search, or for quite as long. 

Faster onboarding

Bringing back a former employee means that the person should become more productive faster than a new recruit walking in cold. They’re already familiar with the organisation, its processes, history, structures and people. 

Boosts reputation

Returning employees make you look good. They boost the perception that your business is a great place to work, not just with your other staff but also with your customers. 

You know what you’re getting

Recruitment can be pretty scary when you have to go out to the market, particularly for small businesses who need someone that’s really going to fit within the team. So when you’ve got someone that’s already worked for you, you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of cultural fit. 

New experiences

When someone comes back into the organisation after working elsewhere, they bring back new experiences, new contacts and new relationships, which can lead to new opportunities for your business.

When someone comes back into the organisation after working elsewhere, they bring back new experiences, new contacts and new relationships, which can lead to new opportunities for your business.

Boomerang Employees: the Cons

Halos and horns

It’s important to check your documentation on their previous performance. Why? Because you probably have a degree of unconscious bias about the person, which might be unnecessarily positive or negative –  what is called the ‘halo or horn’ effect. 

For example, imagine someone who was a great employee for five years, but they had to move interstate quickly for family reasons. Maybe they left your business in a real bind and you felt very negatively about it. They may have been a great fit for your organisation until the moment they were forced to leave, but you may have formed an unreasonable unconscious bias about them. 

Of course the reverse can also be true, for example if there’s an employee that you just really liked. Perhaps over time you’ve actually forgotten that they weren’t that great at the job. 

So it’s important to consider why they left, as well as objective evidence about their performance during the time they worked with you. 

Unwanted surprises 

Make sure you ask your team how they feel about working with the person, especially people who worked with the candidate previously. Put it to them as a hypothetical, ‘how would you feel if Sally came back on board?’. What you don’t want are surprises – discovering tensions or disgruntlements after you’ve rehired someone. 

The lazy option

Ask yourself, why am I considering them? Is it ‘easier’ or are they really the best person? Write out the pros and cons.

Things change

Has your business shifted significantly since they left? I have seen situations where an employee has returned to an organisation and things are not as they expected. This can lead to massive culture shock.

For example, I returned to work after 12 months’ maternity leave, and when I came back the business had been sold. There had been huge changes – the language had changed, the people had changed and so had all the processes. But everyone else had gone through the changeover process and because I had worked there before, they assumed that I knew what was going on. In reality, I had a huge gap in information and it was very confusing. 

Top Tips for Hiring Boomerang Employees

If you weigh up the pros and cons and decide that boomerang employees are the right fit for your business, consider being proactive about recruiting them.

Keep in touch 

For some people this happens organically because they naturally keep in touch. Others may need to be more intentional. Use platforms like LinkedIn to send a message every six months. Some organisations have an alumni newsletter for job vacancies and updates.

Use exit interviews 

When you do an exit interview, ask two questions. First, ask if they want to receive your company newsletter in future. Then make sure that your newsletter includes job vacancies

Second, ask if they would consider returning to the business. Then you can contact them in 12 months or 24 months and check how they’re doing. This plants the seed with the person, reminding them that they have an option to return. 

Reach out to prior employees for referrals 

Don’t just post your job ads on recruitment sites, also send a message to your prior employees and ask if they know any suitable candidates. Maybe they know someone, but maybe that somebody is them. 

Recruiting Boomerang Employees

It’s still important to go through a recruitment process and really dig into the candidate’s reasons for wanting to return. It can be easy to slide back into employing them, but you might discover six months later that their reasons for wanting to return are not aligned with your reasons for wanting to rehire them. 

It’s important to use a process. That doesn’t need to include the entire recruitment process, but at least have a formal interview, and ask the necessary questions.

Do your due diligence:

  • check their employee file and your records of their performance documentation
  • check with trusted employees about their thoughts and feelings.
  • benchmark to the external market – are their skills really up to scratch?
  • don’t assume that they know everything – during their time away they will have developed a knowledge gap

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