Glossary of HR Terms

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Boomerang Employees

Boomerang Employees: A Return Investment

What Are Boomerang Employees?

An employee’s decision to leave their job isn’t always final. Sometimes, they come back. These returning workers are called boomerang employees.

And since the Great Resignation, boomerang employees are becoming more common. Recent research from UKG found that almost 20% of employees who quit during the pandemic returned to their former employers, and 43% of employees who quit now say the old job was better for them.

The rise of boomerang employees could be good for your talent strategy. Use this quick guide to understand what boomerang employees are, the pros and cons of hiring them back, and how to handle returning employees.

Defining Boomerang Employees

“Boomerang employees” is the term applied to people who leave a company but eventually return to that employer. The reasons why they left vary, but they usually involve salary, benefits, or job satisfaction. Oftentimes, they depart for what they believe to be better opportunities at other employers.

Boomerang employees don’t always leave for another job, though — some quit for personal reasons. One example is the number of women who dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic to care for their families. Meanwhile, some boomerang employees are laid off or terminated.

Whatever the reason for these employees’ initial departure, they usually stay on good terms with their previous employer. Plenty of folks were laid off as a cost-saving measure during the Great Recession or the early months of the pandemic, for instance. That doesn’t mean they were poor performers or poorly regarded by their employers — or that they wouldn’t be open to returning under better circumstances.

Generally, boomerang employees aren’t people who were fired for misconduct. Rehiring people with patterns of sexual harassment, violent behavior, or other inappropriate activity (like theft) poses a significant risk to the business. The question of performance is trickier: An employer might rehire someone who was terminated for poor performance if the new role is better suited to their skill set, for example.

Since boomerang employees have already spent time with your company, they likely are a good culture fit and are familiar with your values. That makes reboarding them easier and faster, reducing their time to productivity.

Hiring Boomerang Employees: Pros and Cons

Every hiring decision has tradeoffs. Here are some of the top benefits and potential drawbacks of rehiring past employees.

Benefits of Rehiring Boomerangs

  • They’re already familiar with the company’s culture, values, and goals.
  • They have a high potential for engagement and retention because they’ve experienced other workplaces and consciously decided that your compensation, benefits, and experience are superior.
  • They can improve morale because they’re a live example of the company’s commitment to its employees.

Drawbacks of Rehiring Boomerangs

  • They might have left for good reasons and not improved since, especially if you terminated them the first time around.
  • They might expect special treatment, such as returning to the same job and compensation level (or better).
  • Their return can create tension with other employees, jeopardizing engagement among long-tenured workers.

While there are potential drawbacks to rehiring folks, you can offset those concerns by developing a clear plan for how to onboard boomerang employees and address any concerns other workers might have.

How to Maintain Connection With Boomerang Candidates

High-potential former employees are the best boomerang candidates because you already know what they can achieve. Your offboarding process plays a big role in identifying and staying connected with these high-potential returning employees.

First of all, develop processes for collecting and storing important employee information. This includes detailed employee performance reports, assessment results, or notes on their specific interests. This information will help you properly place the employee should they return (which might not necessarily be the old job role).

Record information from the exit interview, too. If the employee left on their own, it’s crucial to know why. Use that information to understand your culture, values, and employer brand — and where you might have fallen short. Making tangible changes to improve the employee experience is a huge draw for past employees.

Store this information in an accessible and secure place, like your HR workflow management system. You should be able to view such data in the aggregate to spot trends and for individual employees to inform their reboarding plans.
Finally, as part of offboarding, invite exiting employees to stay in touch by joining your alumni network. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents to Enboarder’s recent human connection survey reported that co-workers have the biggest impact on their feelings of connectedness. Keeping high-potential former employees in touch with their former co-workers gives you a head start in recruiting them back.

When you make organizational changes that could influence potential boomerang employees, let them know. Perhaps an employee left a few years ago because they didn’t feel you were doing enough to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, for example. If you can consistently and transparently report on your efforts and the impact they’ve had, that employee could be impressed by your follow-through and want to return.

Tips for Rehiring Boomerang Employees

Reboarding, or the process of re-onboarding, is a customized approach to bringing returning employees back into the fold effectively and without friction. Here’s what you need to know about this process.

Customize the Rehiring Process

Adapt your hiring processes based on circumstance. Internal candidates, for example, shouldn’t have to go through an external career site to apply to another position within the organization. Similarly, don’t make boomerang workers go through the same process as external candidates with no history with your company.

The interview process, in particular, can be more streamlined and targeted. Use interview questions to open a dialogue with the returning employee. Bring up their responses from their exit interview, for example. Encourage transparency about why they left and what has changed since then.

Tailor the Reboarding Plan

Reboarding plans shouldn’t be expedited just because the employee has worked with you before. People and companies change over time, and those changes can take months to get used to. This is especially true if the boomerang employee is returning in a new role, which could require more training, learning, and acclimation.

A tailored reboarding plan sets expectations for performance milestones without making employees feel overwhelmed. Set up the reboarding journey in your onboarding software system. Managers should be able to drag and drop events to customize the reboarding workflow and meet that employee’s specific needs. This allows customization of communication, too. Some returning employees are familiar with the organizational mission, for example, but require more information about the specific department or team they belong to.

A customized reboarding plan avoids assuming that the returning employee knows everything about the organization, its processes, or their job role. In this regard, treat them like any new employee; make sure their onboarding is informative and sets them up for success.

Check in Frequently While They Adjust

Once an employee has returned, check in with them often to see how they’re doing and to identify areas where they need additional support. Managers are pivotal to reboarding. They’re typically the employee’s first line of contact and main source of support.

Your HR workflow software is crucial to helping managers develop the right check-in cadence, as well as what content or other resources can best support returning workers. Coach your managers with helpful nudges, reminders, and conversation prompts at pivotal points in the transition process.

What Goes Around Comes Around

The more effort you put into improving every aspect of the employee journey, the more likely good employees are to come back around. Deliver a positive offboarding process, emphasize ongoing connection and communication, and welcome them back with an engaging reboarding process. Your actions will assure boomerang employees that they made the right choice in coming back.