You could’ve sworn Joe from accounting left a few years ago for another job. You inherited his stapler. But it’s not a ghost you saw in the break room—employers are welcoming back employees who’ve left their companies, says T. Brad Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, and co-author of two recent articles on the subject. Harris defines "boomerang" employees as "people who work for an organization, leave for whatever reason, and return at a later date."
We spoke with Harris to find out why companies are hiring back these employees, and why they want to return. Here are three reasons Harris says companies should embrace boomerang employees:
There’s something to be said for knowing the company’s culture and understanding the work structure, which makes them less risky hires, Harris says. He notes that the military has long employed this strategy, offering bonuses to those who re-enlist.
In the traditional employment model, employees had a level of fear that if they left, they missed their one and only shot with that employer, Harris notes. But that’s changing. "Employers and employees have embraced career models where it’s okay to try different things," he says.
A major benefit for employers is when a returning employee brings something new to the job, whether through new skills, different experiences, or connections they’ve made while outside the organization. Harris says employers should make sure the employee was gone long enough before returning.
With any new job, the first few months are filled with uncertainty and stress. You want to make sure they get through that period so they aren’t going to have lingering curiosity about whether the grass is greener somewhere else, he says.
Harris and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of employees and found that boomerang employees were more likely to leave a job for personal reasons like pregnancy, spouse relocation, or an unexpected job offer, rather than simply being dissatisfied with the job. Even if the employee left to explore other options, an employee who wants to return is likely more committed the second time because they "tasted the forbidden fruit," Harris says.
However, Harris cautions companies to be mindful of the reasons why the employee left the first time around. If they left for more money and are coming back for monetary reasons, they may leave again. Companies are better served if they’re inclined to welcome back employees who were good performers or even those who made an honest mistake in leaving, he notes.
Harris and his co-authors suggest companies cultivate a talent pool of potential boomerang employees by focusing on creating a positive, fair culture with strong communication. For example, an employee who was passed up for a promotion should receive a clear explanation of why he didn’t get it. He also recommends establishing formal and informal ways to maintain communication with former employees, such as creating a LinkedIn alumni group.
Hat tip: University of Illinois News Bureau