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Could “boomerang” employees help close your hiring gap?

Posted by Shivali Anand

March 8, 2022    |     4-minute read (642 words)

According to a 2021 Business Insider article, hidden beneath the record number of employees leaving their jobs in the so-called Great Resignation lies another job market trend. A rising number of employees who resigned during the COVID-19 pandemic have returned to prior companies in new roles, a group popularly dubbed “boomerang” employees. 

Boomerang workers accounted for 4.5% of all new recruits among firms on the professional networking site LinkedIn in 2021, up from 3.9% in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. In a December 2021 interview with Wired, Texas A&M University associate management professor Anthony Klotz predicted that this wave of boomerang employees would endure for the next five years.

While some executives are cautious about rehiring an employee who previously left the company, with so many companies facing labor constraints and talent shortages, they may be more amenable to inviting boomerang employees back and allowing them to accomplish even better things.

Sticking to the basics

What exactly are boomerang workers? Employees who quit an organization and then return to work for the same company have long been referred to as "returnees." During the pandemic, their reasons for departing varied, ranging from taking a seemingly better position to needing to fulfill caregiving needs.

Why are they coming back? After leaving a company, some employees quickly found that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Some realized their new role wasn’t a good fit or needed more flexibility. Others saw the pandemic's overall slowness as a sign of a halted career and are now ready to step back into the workplace. These boomerang employees, for whatever reason, are eager to return to their prior employer.

Rehired employees bring value to the company

Leaving a company was traditionally thought to be a sign of disloyalty, especially for those who worked there a long time. But times are changing. Many employees depart on good terms with employers, even going so far as to provide their new contact information and maintaining communication with former bosses.

Four compelling reasons to hire boomerang workers:

They are more predictable. According to a Harvard Business Review study released in February 2021, boomerang workers are more predictable than brand-new external hires. Their future conduct is likely to be consistent with what they showed during their original employment, while the external hire's behavior is an unknown variable.

They may contribute sooner than other hires. Boomerang employees show higher initial job performance and incur lower training expenses and less onboarding time, according to HBR's research. This makes boomerang workers more appealing to businesses trying to fill employment needs quickly.

They understand the company. Even if they've been away for a while and require some training, boomerang employees typically have a good understanding of how the company operates. They are already familiar with the company's structure, procedures and customers, as well as the workplace environment.

Rehired employees bring back new skills. Boomerang employees are likely to have learned new skills or different ways of doing things while working for a different company. Businesses can benefit from boomerang employees' increased expertise, fresh perspectives and thoughtful ideas.

However, there are some risks too

Boomerang workers do not appear to come back with a renewed level of commitment, and they are more likely to depart than both new recruits and internal promotions, according to HBR's study.

In other words, if they've already left the business once, they may be inclined to do so again. But this is a risk businesses take with any new hire.

Conclusion

As the pandemic has illustrated, some employee exits are unavoidable. If a valued former employee approaches you about the possibility of returning, it's worth considering. As HBR’s research found, a boomerang worker is likely to perform the same as before they left, meaning bringing back a stellar ex-employee could benefit the company.

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