Did You Let A Good One Go? The Benefits Of Boomerang Employees

No need to burn bridges: rehiring former staff can add additional skills to your talent pool, shake up creativity, provide a continuum of culture, and—best of all— save money.

Kyle Leavitt had a dream job. As director of sales for Infusionsoft, a provider of marketing automation software for small businesses, he was part of a company with a strong culture that took care to encourage innovation and rapid execution of ideas. And if you felt like you didn’t fit in after two weeks of intensive training, you’d be paid to leave. "The excitement everyone had for what they were doing was contagious," Leavitt said. "l didn’t get that at my other jobs."

Leavitt, who started in sales, was fast tracked to director as the company grew. Nevertheless, the entrepreneurial bug bit hard. He and his brother (also employed at Infusionsoft) left the company to start their own business, CustomerHub, in 2008.

They weren't alone. Though the recession and ensuing layoffs forced many to strike out on their own, plenty continue to leave stable jobs to pursue passions, by choice. While unemployment hovers around an estimated 7.8 percent, the number of people quitting surpassed 2 million per month for most of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.

But Leavitt’s story has a bit of a twist. Three years into growing CustomerHub, it was acquired—by Infusionsoft. And they hired him back along with all his staff. Says Infusionsoft’s CEO Clate Mask: "The acquisition of CustomerHub fit on many levels. We were able to add great technology that was already integrated into our all-in-one sales and marketing software and that fit a need for our customers." And rather than bid good riddance to Leavitt, Mask says, "We were able to re-hire Kyle, who already fit into our organization very well, and add his staff (75 percent of which had previously worked here) back into the Infusionsoft family."

By going back to his former employer, Leavitt became a boomerang employee. It’s not a new phenomenon (though the BLS isn’t tracking it yet), but companies who rely on staffing those with specialized skills often keep an eye on the ones that get away.

Like several other advertising agencies, Deutsch Inc. created an alumni club, says Winston Binch, partner and chief digital officer at Deutsch LA, "for long-time employees who left for a short stint and then returned."

Sabri Sansoy was a senior creative developer at Deutsch LA who, like Leavitt, left about a year and a half ago to start his own business, a wind energy company whose technology was modeled on bumblebee wings. The MIT-trained rocket engineer eventually came back to Deutsch LA when he saw "all the cool digital stuff that was happening there." 

Binch believes bringing back former staffers like Sansoy helps the business in several ways, not the least of which is to improve morale. "Great talent is in short supply. And the best people are always looking over the shoulder for the next great opportunity as well as fielding a steady flow of call and emails from recruiters. When someone comes back to the agency, it creates a sense that it must be a great place," he explains. That challenges the notion that the grass always greener, says Binch but it also helps maintain and build culture that is critical to creative success. "Our boomerangs prove to us all that we're on to something, that what we're doing is noteworthy, and it's worth sticking around for," he adds.

Rob DiFondi, sound mixer at Sound Lounge knew this to be true. "Sound Lounge is known as the top place to go for post production sound and has always had top talent here. I returned because it was very important for me personally and creatively to surround myself with those types of people again," he explains.

Marshall Grupp, partner and chief operating officer of Sound Lounge, says that in the 14 years the audio post production company’s been around they’ve done very little hiring from the outside. But DiFondi says that Sound Lounge’s philosophy of training and promoting good people is just as important. "At my previous employer, the receptionist did double duty as the administrator of the Facebook page and that just didn't cut it for me," DiFondi explains. With a dedicated sales and marketing staff he doesn’t have to worry about doing double duty and peddling his own work.

Even if a company is a great place to be, recruiter Serena Wolf says people who tend to do better in their careers put in four years and then move on. "Five years or more [on one job] makes you look stale," says Wolf, especially if you spend most of that time working in one channel. Wes Warren, who was rehired as senior art director of digital by Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness (SSW) says, "There's a good chance that switching agencies is the fastest way to gain experience and expedite title promotions and pay increases."

Yet, he notes that after spending years working on websites sell TV service and financial products for big banks, he was spent. "I was feeling the urge to work on a subject that is more personal," says Warren, "The products we promote can improve people's quality of life in a real way."

It’s also important that the work is balanced with real-life pursuits, Warren observes. "There's long nights, weekend work, pitches or launches that have us burning the candle at both ends for weeks at a time," he says. What drew him back to SSW was autonomy. "My managers trust me. So long as I do great work and get it done on time, I don't have to feel guilty visiting the gym during lunch or leaving early one day."

Juggling the demands of her family is partly what drew Maryam Ayromlou back to public relations. After 17 years as a journalist, she left CBS—only to be on the sidelines while major stories like the Arab Spring and Osama bin Laden’s capture broke. So after 10 months at Ruder Finn, Ayromlou jumped ship to work with CNN on Erin Burnett’s OutFront.

Unlike the 65 percent of Americans who say they’d take a new boss over a pay raise, Ayromlou says she left on such good terms with the executives at Ruder Finn that the CEO told her, "I’m calling it a sabbatical, as you’ll be back."  And she did. "The second time around, I found my role more valuable and rewarding," Ayromlou points out.

Not to mention saving on recruiting costs. Ira Wolfe, president of leadership assessment firm Success Performance Solutions, reports the cost to re-hire a boomerang employee can be one-third to two-thirds the cost of hiring a new employee.

Gina Grillo, president and CEO of The Advertising Club of New York believes that while bringing in fresh faces is important for a business's vitality, a known entity with a broadened and possibly enlightened perspective can be just as valuable in more subtle ways. "Former employees who come back to a familiar culture with enhanced skills and new contacts are incredibly valued by senior management because they are more seasoned and can impact and direct juniors in a positive way."

[Image: Flickr user JessyLou D'Aprile]

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3 Comments

  • Karen Catlin

    Nice article on the benefits of rehiring an employee who left on good terms. It made me wonder about the challenges that the boomerang employee must face. Chances are that he or she grew personally and professionally in the interim. Even if they had a stellar reputation before, they may not want to be seen as the same person. They'll want to be seen for the expertise they now have. They may want to challenge how things are done because they saw it handled differently somewhere else. They may need to prove themselves all over again.

    I'd encourage boomerang employees to a) take time to understand the new rules of engagement, and not assume everything is the same as before; and b) update their personal brand to reflect what they've learned since their previous tour of duty. 

    What other things should a boomerang employee do to set up their second tour of duty for success?

  • Elijah Lim

    Great article! Similar to one I read on LinkedIn "Why I cheer when my employees leave". May we all have that same spirit - that our businesses always grow people, no matter the business sector.

  • Spark Hire

    Interesting article! Just because an employee has worked with you before doesn’t mean rehiring them again is a bad idea. In fact if they were a great worker, a boomerang employee can help you save money on training while maintaining your company culture. In the interview, whether in person or through online video, make sure the candidate is excited to come back to the company. If they seem sincere in this desire to come back into the fold, boomerang employees can make for smart hires.