Boomerang employees, or returning alumni?
The idea of rehiring someone who left an organisation for ‘greener pastures’, or, if you’re the employee, the idea of going backwards are not usually favourable predicaments for either party, not least due to their potential for ‘bad feelings’ of bridges burnt, failures elsewhere, disloyalty and fickleness.
These people are sometimes referred to as ‘boomerang employees’ after the Australian aboriginal tool that when thrown can return to you.
But perhaps boomerangs need to be reframed in light of Covid-19 and the Great Resignation, which has left the job market in many parts of the world topsy turvy and entities fighting hard to secure top finance talent.
Indeed, boomerangs offer a neat remedy, one some employers have already picked up on — according to LinkedIn, in 2021 of all new hires by companies on their site, 4.5% were boomerang workers, compared to 3.9% in 2019.
Why might people return?
Firstly, why might they have left? Boomerangs might have left amid the pandemic or a decade ago. They might have left because they weren’t happy at the company, to seek more responsibility, better remuneration, a career change, to look after a family member, a sabbatical, and the list goes on.
The moral of the list — don’t judge a book by its cover when evaluating a returnee, but do make their decision to leave a difficult one (by way of being a great employer) and then make them feel they’re always welcome should they want to return.
And don’t assume they want a return because they had a bad time elsewhere. It might be that the reason they’re considering coming back is because the old company has improved in the areas they weren’t happy with the first time round. This is not unusual given the understanding of what maintains and attracts modern workforces, eg organisational culture, flexible working, empathetic leadership, diversity and inclusiveness, and of course remuneration.
Also worth noting, research by HR solutions provider UKG found that 43% of people who quits jobs during the pandemic feel they were better off in their previous posts.
Alumni, not ex-employees
If needed, consider an attitude shift when thinking about ex-employees. Instead of watching them disappear in the rear-view mirror, value them as alumni, as part of an organisation’s network, it’s history.
This is a strategy LinkedIn actively uses for its own recruitment. The platform doubled the number of new hires in 2021 from its alumni network by extending referral bonuses to alums and deliberately targeting job ads at this group.
For this to work effectively, however, depends upon many factors, ranging from the employee’s experiences working for the employer, the work culture, reasons for leaving and how they were supported on their way out (off-boarding, outplacement).
Take university alumni as an example, people who had a good experience on their course, then a good career on the back of it will be proud and active members of the alumni, willing to endorse the university to their networks, come back for further study or to engage current students.
Ultimately, if you’re an organisation with a good culture, a valued and well-treated workforce, one that provides career opportunities and challenges, then firstly you’ll retain talent more effectively, but secondly, should talent leave they’ll hopefully do so on good terms, making a return an attractive prospect for both parties.
Why might boomerangs make good employees… again?
Returners know the organisation, especially ones who haven’t been away too long. This means onboarding will be simpler, they’ll hit the ground running in their roles quickly, they’ll know and fit into the company culture, they may bring new skills, experiences and connections (customers, suppliers, talent etc), and you might retain them more easily (people might have missed the company; they probably won’t be in a hurry to move again).
And the boomerang cons?
The potential for bringing bad blood and disharmony to the office is the main one. If the employee left on a bad note, or colleagues aren’t happy about the return, or they’re coming back into an elevated position, there are factors that can make it awkward for everyone and need to be carefully managed.
Just because they know the company and a role, or they performed well previously doesn’t mean they’re the best fit now. Processes, teams, management and culture may have changed, and they’ll find themselves out of step.
The boomerang might also feel it’s a back step in their career. They might be returning because experiences elsewhere didn’t meet expectations, but that doesn’t mean the decision to return is a homecoming, they might simply feel there’s no other choice.
How to welcome a boomerang
Make them feel welcome and prioritise communication. They may come with demands and suggestions, so listen to them, they may be erudite and ultimately beneficial to the organisation.
Settling in might be tough for them and to their team, especially if they’re rejoining a team, and at whatever level, equal or superior to their previous post. This requires support and an open ear for the returner and their colleagues to ease the landing. Equally, be cognisant of the message rehiring people might send to current staff around how loyalty and disloyalty are viewed/rewarded by management.
And if you’re a boomerang…
The pros and cons are much the same as for the employer, just from your perspective, so there are plenty of things to consider before signing on the dotted line.
- Familiarity with the company, the culture, the role and people
- Any experiences and new skills you bring might make you more valuable, appreciated, heighten your enjoyment of work and increase performance
- You’ve scratched an itch by leaving the employer and doing whatever it was you were doing, and now feel more settled
- You might be able to command a better remuneration package, or a better role, or exposure to certain parts of the business
- Re-entry might not be as smooth as you think
- If you arrive with a promotion or with special treatment that is noticeable to others, this could alienate colleagues, sowing seeds of discontent, straining your relationships
- The place might have changed into something you don’t like, or it hasn’t changed from what you didn’t like before. Bad leadership or a toxic work culture may persist, for example
- If you left for a reason, this may not have been resolved
- It’s easy to fall back into unhealthy relationships and practices