Recruiting and Staffing, Talent Management

The “Comeback Kids” — The Great Hidden Value in Returning Employees

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With everyone screaming these days about not being able to find the right talent, you might want to consider hiring “comeback kids.”

What are “comeback kids?” These are employees that left your company that you really didn’t want to lose.

If they return to work for you, they’re called “comeback kids.”

In the past, there was somewhat of a stigma placed on employees that wanted to return to a previous employer. Voluntarily leaving a job gave employees a “black mark,” and they were sometimes branded as disloyal. Some feared they would somehow steal their employee friends away.

Sometimes, good people leave

Simply put, they were viewed as bad news and well rid of.

But things change. Since 2008, companies have gotten rid of a large number of employees, and even workers who weren’t laid off were worried about losing their jobs. So, they stayed put even though many wanted to leave.

In the last few years, we have been bombarded with a large number of survey results showing that vast numbers of employees are “disengaged.” The general consensus has been that employees are just waiting until hiring picks up again and then it’s adios amigos. We might be looking at a tsunami of employees leaving.

Not all employees that leave a company, however, are bad people. In many cases, those who left are the good employees — the ones you don’t want to lose.

But careers are viewed differently today. Employees want new experiences, a chance to work on new products/services, an opportunity to work overseas, etc.   For whatever reason, they see the grass as greener on the other side of the fence. And because they are talented and experienced, they are quickly snapped up by other companies.

Why would you want to re-hire former employees?

We’re talking about good performers here and people with valuable skills. Of course there are always risks in re-hiring people, but there are even greater risks in hiring people for the first time that are completely unknown.

So why would a company want to re-hire employees? There are many reasons:

  • They don’t require training like new employees would.
  • There are no recruiting costs for the company.
  • Re-hired employees are familiar with the company procedures and culture.
  • Loyalty is likely to have increased — former employees have seen what’s out there in the world and have chosen to return.

As far as that last bullet is concerned, imagine what it would be like to have “comeback kids” talk with your current employees and give them a healthy dose of reality about what it’s like to work for another company. Having them tell employees that are thinking about leaving — “You don’t know how good this company is until you have worked somewhere else.”  Wow! With PR like that, how can you lose?

Developing an alumni website

John Sullivan points out a few other advantages of hiring “comeback kids.” They can provide valuable intelligence and a fresh perspective from their prior companies. They can also bring some of their friends from those companies with them. If they have stayed in touch with other former employees in your company, they may also be able to convince them to come back.

Are you beginning to see the value of “comeback kids” now?

For these reasons and more, it might be wise to cull through old files (unless the info is on a database) and identify people that left on good terms and that were good performers. Give them a call. Ask them to have coffee or lunch. See if they are happy in their new company. If not, ask them if they would like to come back.

One other thought: It might be worthwhile to consider developing a website strictly for your company’s alumni. The alumni would log in and keep track of old friends and even “chat” if your site has an application for it. Enticing bits of company information could be placed on the site for them to read.

It’s not as crazy as it might seem. With the “war for talent,” companies need every tool they can get to keep track of good, talented employees for future reference.

Make it easy for them to return

Oil and gas companies have been doing this for years. They are known for having serious recruiting issues due to an aging workforce. In addition, they have experienced many years of college students choosing to major in areas other than petroleum engineering.

They have been almost paranoid about losing employees and have used alumni websites as a way to keep track of the good ones that leave. These websites are popular with alumni as well as they allow them to keep up with their former work friends.

Companies like BP and Arco have their own alumni websites. In addition, there are web companies like Alumni Web Services that is the largest provider of online communities to the oil and gas industry. In addition, it also provides alumni communities for Fortune 100 companies in other industries.

Sometimes employees have to leave in order to realize how much your company means to them. Eventually they may want to return but may feel they would not be welcome. If you are not making them welcome, you are losing out on the chance to re-hire some good people.

Keep the door open for them to return. Make it easy for them. If you handle the situation professionally and maintain relationships with former employees, you may just find them back in your company sooner than you think!

Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has over 20 years’ experience in International Human Resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. Jacque has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at jvilet@viletinternational.com.
  • http://twitter.com/ongig Ongig

    You provided a great tip to employers, Jacque. Always keep the door open. Creating an alumni network is a great idea for employers who frequently have interns or are larger and more established. A mis-hire in a company can cost a lot of money. If you have the option of welcoming old blood, why not save the time and money?

  • Jacque Vilet

    Hiring former employees CAN backfire —- but the odds are better if you do it rather than take a chance on a new person that you know nothing about.

    I personally like the idea of an alumni network.   The oil and gas companies use this and it works well for them — the former employees are not afraid to chat with each other and it’s a great way for the company to get some inside info.   Companies in other industries —-  don’t know if they are using this technique or not — I would be interested in hearing from some companies outside oil/gas to hear whether their programs have been successful.