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Leaders, you have a huge opportunity with boomerang employees. Here’s how to succeed

Nearly a third of employees who quit recently say they would return to their former employer. The chief people officer at iCIMS says it’s up to talent leaders to build programming and alumni networks to take advantage of this.

Leaders, you have a huge opportunity with boomerang employees. Here’s how to succeed
[Photo: Gandee Vasan/Getty Images]

In the not-too-distant past, hiring back former employees was taboo. Some HR teams even had policies against the practice. But in today’s talent market, we’ve seen the rise of the boomerang employee—someone who leaves the company they work for but later returns to work for their previous employer again—and employers are welcoming them back with open arms. 

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New research revealed that nearly a third of American workers and a third of British workers left a job over the past two years, but would consider returning to their old workplace. Younger workers and males of all ages (in both the U.S. and the U.K.) are contemplating returning to a company they left during the Great Resignation more so than older workers and women of all ages. 

We’re seeing this growing trend firsthand, with many ex-employees proactively expressing interest in returning to our company. As people rethink their ideals for the workplace, many are realizing the importance of working for an employer that aligns with their values, supports their personal passions, and provides support beyond traditional benefits. For example, Kelsey Cody, a recent boomerang employee at iCIMS, originally joined our organization as part of an acquisition in early 2018, left in 2020, and is now back since January of this year. She shared that she always believed in our products and impact, and during the pandemic realized how much she missed feeling a true connection to her colleagues and employer’s mission. 

To address this growing trend, it’s up to us, as talent leaders, to build programming and alumni networks for boomerang employees to provide a better overall experience.

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Why do boomerangs leave in the first place? And why do they come back?

When considering hiring a former employee, it’s important to understand why they left in the first place and what pulled them back. Boomerangs are typically some of the top performers who were courted and recruited for positions elsewhere. With their return, managers have the opportunity to tap into their new knowledge and perspective to drive results across their teams.

In other cases, they may have left for personal reasons and life changes. At iCIMS, we encourage employees to bring their whole, authentic self to work. Sometimes, that means letting them move on to the next chapter away from our business, and continuing to cheer them on, and maintain a relationship with them from afar.

One iCIMS double boomerang, Phil Rodriguez, started his career at iCIMS straight out of college but left the company in the early 2000s. He came back a few years later, left again, returned again, and now has been with us since 2019, each time in a more senior role because of the growth and experience he gained in his time away. Over the past 20 years, his life has changed, taking him on different paths in different parts of the country, but when the time was right for him to be at iCIMS, he always knew the door was open.  

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Like Phil, many boomerang employees are tempted to return to their previous employer because they believe in the company, had solid relationships across the organization, and maintained their friendships with colleagues, managers, and leaders. For these folks, rejoining an organization is typically less of  “if” and more of  “when.”  

Engage top performers before they leave to encourage career growth and boomerangs

Frankly, we all hope our top talent doesn’t want to leave the organization. It is critical to proactively keep an open career-growth dialogue with our top performers. Regularly discuss their goals, potential career paths, internal mobility, and advancement opportunities within your organization on an ongoing basis. If great employees do decide to leave, consider including a future career path discussion as part of their offboarding and exit interview. 

We know some employees leave a company to learn new skills, advance in seniority, or enter the management track, so it’s important to show employees that leaving and returning is not the only way to experience career growth.

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Organizations can improve upskilling and mobility programs by using an internal marketplace where employees can search and apply for new roles, support cross-departmental projects, and more, so they have full visibility into the opportunities available to grow and advance their career right where they are. 

Rethink onboarding and offboarding

Many businesses are moving and transforming at an accelerated pace. The challenge with onboarding a boomerang employee is finding the point in time between when they left and when they return, and getting them up to speed as quickly as possible. Managers might feel like they can speed through this reeducation process and glide past the standard 30/60/90-day objectives, but that should not be the case. Boomerangs need the same solid footing as any net-new employee. 

Back to Phil’s story. Each time he returned to our organization, he rejoined at pivotal moments of growth and change, and it was important to get him up to speed quickly on the latest company goals, systems, and resources. More importantly though, was ensuring that he knew we valued his previous experiences and how that aligned with our future-looking vision. 

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Offboarding an employee is just as important as onboarding in the age of the boomerang. I recently heard one of my peers share their “red carpet in, red carpet out” attitude when approaching onboarding and offboarding. This principle resonated with me, and we’re applying it at our organization. Far too often, an employee’s final experience with their employer is handing in their hardware and key card and walking out the door. 

When offboarding a high-performing team member, make it clear that the door is open, should that employee ever want to return, and stay in touch as their career and life develop. Maintaining a personal relationship is that little extra step that leaves departing employees with the understanding that no bridges have been burned and that their time and effort working for the company was appreciated.

Kelsey recalled how when leaving iCIMS, her managers made it clear to her that what was right for her, was right for iCIMS. This made her decision to return even easier. At iCIMS, we encourage curiosity. It leads to more innovation, greater efficiency, and ultimately, a better business. Sometimes that curiosity leads employees to search for new roles to expand their skills, and we need to welcome that curiosity as well. 

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Boomerang employees are a great testament to an organization that the grass isn’t always greener. Cultivating long-standing relationships built on respect is key to creating an employee alumni network, which keeps top talent in your sphere, adding new diverse perspectives to your talent pool that will add a different lens to your business. 


Laura Coccaro is the chief people officer at iCIMS.


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