Boomerang Employees: Pros and Cons

What is a boomerang employee?

A boomerang employee is someone who leaves a company, usually by resigning rather than getting fired, but later returns as a re-hired employee for the same company again. There are many different reasons why an employee might leave in the first place. 

It used to be frowned upon for people to change jobs every few years, and employers used to have a policy not to hire back people that had left. According to a 2015 survey by Workplace Trends, half of HR professionals said their organization previously had a policy against hiring back a former employee regardless of how they left. Over the past few decades, this has changed, and it is now more common than not for people to change jobs every few years as well as return to work for previous employers. 

More and more companies are starting to see the value in bringing back certain former employees. There are pros and cons, and in some situations, it makes good sense to do so.

Benefits of boomerang employees

Sometimes there are benefits to both the employer and the employee to “get back together.” When you bring back a former employee, they are already familiar with your products, services, processes, and company culture. As long as they left on good terms, or if it was for a reason that’s now been corrected such as a bad manager who is no longer with the organization, there’s a good possibility that they can be a valuable asset to the team again. During times of low unemployment, it makes a lot of sense for companies to not rule out bringing back a former employee.

From an employee standpoint, especially when unemployment is higher, it can also make sense to reach out to former employers to find out about opportunities. You are already familiar with the company culture, products/services and if you enjoyed working there before, chances are you will again. If you left because of lack of opportunity for career growth or because of a bad manager, those things may have changed since you left and could be worth exploring a return for the right opportunity. Or, you may have gained the skills necessary for the promotion you wanted but didn’t qualify for previously. Reach out to any of your former co-workers who still are with the company and see if they will refer you. They may earn a referral bonus, and there’s a good chance as a former employee that the hiring manager will call you back. 

Another big benefit to employers is it costs a lot less to re-hire a former employee. They will need a lot less training and onboarding compared to a brand-new employee and will be able to hit the ground running and be productive more quickly. And bringing in a former employee who will come in with a fresh perspective, experience and ideas will be able to quickly apply them in a beneficial way. During the interview process, be prepared to discuss what new insights were gained after leaving the company and how those experiences could be put into good use.

Risks of hiring a former employee back

It may be tempting to hire back a former employee for some of the reasons above. But keep in mind if they were let go for reasons such as poor performance, or even worse, issues such as bullying or sexual harassment, they will not be a good candidate for re-hire. These types of behaviors are not easily changed and if they were a problem employee in the past, they are likely to be again.

Employees who left for a better opportunity could possibly be a good candidate. If they left for a better opportunity before, what would prevent them from doing so again? It depends. If you weren’t able to offer them the kind of career advancement opportunities that they were looking for, but now you are, then they may still be a good candidate to bring back. 

During the interview process make sure to discover why they want to come back. Are they genuinely interested in working for the same company again, or simply in need of a job? Another red flag is if they spoke negatively about the company in the past, will they bring back the same toxic attitude? 

As a hiring manager, you will want to ask about these things to determine if they’ll be a good fit to bring back again. Former employees can be a great pool of candidates, but it depends on how and why they left as well as why they would like to return and what new skills and experiences they bring to the table. During the interview process, also review their exit interview to review what their pain points were to be sure you’re confident they’ll be able to overcome them. 

Setting yourself up to be able to re-hire someone, or as an employee to return, starts at the end of employment the first time around. As an employer, treat your employee well even after learning that they will be leaving. Offer to be a reference and let them know you will be happy to help if there’s anything they need. As an employee, finish up your work, offer to help train whoever will be taking over for you, and let the employer know they can reach out to you after you leave if any questions come up. Don’t burn any bridges. End the working relationship on a good note. It’s also important to have a strategy in place for being able to tap into this talent pool. Add them to your ATS, send out a newsletter to keep them up to date on relevant updates, and track their contacts within the company so you can reconnect with them when there’s a new opportunity that fits their skills. As an employee, make sure to connect and engage with former coworkers on LinkedIn and follow the company’s page to stay up to date on potential career opportunities.