It wasn't so long ago that employers were reluctant to rehire employees who had left and wanted to come back. But that thinking has changed, as so-called boomerang employees are seen as valuable assets. Part of this is a generational shift: While staying with one company for your entire career was almost a certainty for older workers and Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y more readily switched jobs to fit their broader lifestyle choices, acquire desirable skills, and satisfy their ambitions. This can work to your advantage, since boomerangs who are familiar with your business can get up to speed faster than new hires and put their new maturity to work for you. Before integrating boomerangs back into your workforce, consider these recommendations and experiences from hiring experts.
Company culture counts
"If you're considering hiring back someone, that's obviously someone that you identified who did well in your environment, so the cultural component of success when hiring is integral," says Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based provider of employment testing. "If you can cut down the onboarding process from months or a year to a matter of days or even a few weeks, that's enormous."
To see whether boomerangs can be assimilated into your business seamlessly, Wolfe suggests looking at three things. First, do they have the qualifications to do the job? Second, can they work well with the team they're assigned to? Third, do they still fit in with the culture of your business after their return?
Employers should be particularly conscious of how they break the news of the rehire to team members. "If the boomerang left on good terms with the employer but the team members resented it and the same team is there, it needs to be worked out," Wolfe says. "Team fit is vital, especially in a small company."
Although boomerangs are coming back to familiar turf where some things may have stayed the same during their absence, employers should be clear from the start about current goals and procedures and what the boomerang is expected to deliver. "Any time you bring somebody new on, the situation has changed. Sometimes they want to relive the past and you can't do that," Wolfe says. "The focus on hiring really needs to be looking at what's required now and who the best person is. If the best person happens to be a boomerang employee, that's great."
Stay in touch
When an employee leaves a company, some business owners may take the decision personally and see it almost as an act of betrayal. But experts say that employers should be supportive that the employee will be learning new things—and keep in contact with them.
"Stay in touch with people that you hope to come back and even those that you hope don't," says Krisi Rossi, vice president at LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm. "Keep them involved in what's going on in your business. You never know where the next order or client is going to come from. So every good person is valuable, whether they work for you or not." Rossi takes her own advice, sending out texts to former employees, such as reminding them of how many years they would have worked at LaSalle had they stayed and celebrating the occasion.
Rossi recommends a candid but firm approach to alleviate the concerns of team members: Explain how the boomerang's return can benefit the whole company and how they will be accountable for results just like current employees. Be clear that the decision to rehire is not open for debate, but encourage team members to give you their feedback. "Let them voice their opinions and tell you what they're concerned about. Then incorporate them into the expectations of the management of this new person so they know they've been listened to," Rossi says.
Employers should also be more flexible in luring boomerangs back. For example, when Rossi wanted to bring back a recruiter who had gone to another company, she considered not only openings in recruiting, but in the training department as well. "Having somebody good come back to your organization and be able to contribute positively to it isn't defined by what role they played for me when they were here," Rossi says. "There's no expectation that hiring a boomerang back means they're going to go back to exactly the role that they had when they left."
Rehiring by the numbers
Employers and boomerangs that deal with each other candidly and professionally, as these experts suggest, can often result in a mutually beneficial resolution. That's what happened at Swanson Russell, a marketing communications agency with offices in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, with about 145 employees. Over the last seven years, 12 employees left and came back.
"We're very selective and diligent about who we hire in the first place. We try to avoid making bad hires," says Brian Boesche, a partner and chief creative officer at the company. "If we have a strong employee to begin with and they leave, we want to make sure we have a chance to attract them back if they fit the situation."
For example, Swanson Russell had hired an employee from another local agency as a writer/producer. He did good work and built strong relationships with his accounts—but accepted an offer from another local agency with some high-profile youth marketing clients. "It was disappointing to us because it was maybe only five or six months after he started here," Boesche says. "He handled it well. It wasn't that he was upset or disenchanted with anything that he was doing here. He just felt it was an opportunity he needed to pursue."
The employee stayed in touch with team members at Swanson Russell. When Boesche discovered that he was not pleased with his new position, they began to talk about working together again. "I said that we would love to have him back, but that we were a little gun shy given what happened before," Boesche says. "He understood and we came to an agreement. He came back here and he's flourishing now."