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Aug 4, 2022

Once upon a time, a significant percentage of organizations had policies against re-hiring former staff. These are people the HR community brands ‘boomerangs.’

Today though, our competitive hiring environment means these formally shunned staff – those disliked for having the temerity to leave and look for employment elsewhere – are being welcomed (almost) with open arms. According to LinkedIn, boomerangs accounted for 4.5% of all new hires in 2021, up 3.9% from 2019. New data from talent acquisition company, Lever, also finds that with many boomerangs finding that the grass wasn’t quite as green as they first though, most (52%) would consider returning to their former employer.

From a company’s point of view, the benefits of returning employees should be obvious. Finding, hiring, and onboarding new employees is expensive and time-consuming. By contrast, boomerang employees are not only a known quantity. They bring with them prior experience, and they can pretty much hit the ground running.

But if employers really are struggling to hire people, and there’s an oven-ready cohort of those willing to come back, what are the barriers? Well, often its these original outdated policies. Plus, HRDs really ought to work harder at burying old gripes, and making their company welcoming again.

So what can companies do to create a culture that welcomes boomerang employees?

Here are five ways employers can increase the likelihood that any exiting staff could well convert to boomerang staff further down the line:

1) Build deep, meaningful employee relationships

Develop managers who create relationships with their people that extend beyond work. Don’t just treat employees as a checklist to syncto against work-related items. Get to know the individual as a person and learn what motivates them. This requires some vulnerability from the leader (they need to be willing to share information about their own lives if they expect the individual to open up about theirs). The goal should be to show any exiting employee that their relationship can (and will) exist beyond their time at the company, and that by understanding their career goals, you can proactively reach out to them when other opportunities arise that may be a great fit for their skillset. Other ways to develop meaningful relationships and create deeper connections include incorporating appreciation into meetings. Studies repeatebly show that recognition is proven to increase engagement.

2) Probe outgoing employees

Conduct a thorough exit interview to uncover specific pain-points and collect feedback, so the people operations team can determine if it is worth reaching out to the individual in the future. Determining what motivates individual employees to leave also determines whether or not it makes sense for an employee to return. It’s also a good indicator that the company might need to make some slight adjustments for current employees – espeially if there is recurring reasons for resignations.

3) Leave the door open

Clearly communicate to exiting employees that the door is well and truly open for them to return. Consider sharing your personal information (cell, email, What’s App, etc), to keep it personal and ensure leaders can continue honoring the relationship. Remember, there’s always a possibility to be a mentor moving forward, whether as a reference or if a new position within the company opens up that’s a better fit for a resigned employee.

4) Create a culture for ‘graceful exits’

This is a no-brainer! When an employee gives notice, listen to their needs and what their departure timeline is so you can work with them. Far too often companies are quick to let employees go immediately, or only keep them for an additional week vs the traditional two weeks for notice. This is short-sighted though. Employers need to think about what’s best for the employee, even an exiting employee. This includes respecting their timelines. Existing staff could be living paycheck to paycheck and may need that extra week of pay. They may also need additional time for a clean wrap up/transition. Letting this happen will also benefit remaining employees.

5) Be happy for staff

Showing resigning employees excitement for their new journey may not feel like the natural first reaction to have, but by doing so it establishes an open line of communication that protects against any future awkwardness. By showing your support for their new opportunity for career growth, as a potential boomerang, departing employees will remember the kindness and excitement you showed for them as a professional.

It’s win-win

What’s sometimes forgotten, is that by adopting these strategies in your company, you’ll have better relationships with all your employees, not just the existing/returning ones.

But more than this, you’ll be much better prepared to welcome boomerang employees back into the corporate fold.

Boomerang employees can be a great asset – but only if you’re truly prepared to welcome them back.


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