Software engineer Artin Boghosian loved his work, his team, and his company. But after six years at Intoo, he started craving a new challenge.
“When I was first hired, I was still pretty junior in my experience level,” Artin said. “Of course, I could have stayed and grown here. But emotionally, I needed to go to a new place and just prove to myself that I could take a bigger role—being more vocal, making more decisions.”
So when a past colleague recruited him for a new company, Artin said yes. Then two years later, Artin made his Intoo comeback—with more skills, experience, and confidence.
“I returned a stronger leader. There was a change internally, where I now felt I could share my opinion without second-guessing myself and taking a back seat.”
Artin is one of the millions of boomerang employees in America who have chosen to return to a previous employer. The reasons for the departures and returns vary, but the trend is clearly on the upswing. In fact, many companies today actively recruit from among their company alums to benefit from the many advantages these return employees can bring back to the organization.
Why recruit boomerang employees?
In today’s tight job market, employers are increasingly turning to under-the-radar population groups to find undervalued talent. But the popularity of boomerang employees goes far beyond a simple effort to expand the talent pool. Hiring a qualified former worker offers tangible advantages over hiring someone brand new to the organization.
“They already understand the culture, the players, the processes, and the procedures,” said Debora Roland, Intoo’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources, about boomerang employees. “They understand the product. Their ramp-up time is pretty much nothing, usually.”
All that preexisting knowledge means boomerang employees bring organizations significant money and time savings. This is especially true in retail, where 72% of retail hiring managers said boomerang employees—who represent a pool of trained, pre-screened candidates—were their highest performers during the 2019 holiday season, according to Kronos’ 2019 Retail Holiday Hiring Pulse Survey.
In addition, returning workers already have relationships with some of the workforce and are familiar with the culture, making teamwork easier. As John Dawson, a director at recruiting company ideal.com, points out, “Someone that already understands the company culture, is aligned with the strategic vision and goals, has met and worked with clients and knows the results the leadership team like to see, will be immeasurably quicker to get into the role and offer optimal productivity.”
In short, if a past employee had good relationships with coworkers and was making contributions to the organization, their return can bring all those positives back plus the new knowledge and skills they picked up during their time away.
7 ways to attract boomerang employees
Once your organization understands the value of boomerang employees, here’s how to go about bringing them to your organization.
Part on good terms. As upsetting as it can be to have a valued employee leave, make sure the offboarding experience is a positive one for the exiting worker. When Artin left Intoo, the Chief Technology Officer Toby Christie was sad to see him go. “But he was very supportive,” Artin said. “He was like, ‘Hey, is there anything to do to make you stay?’ And when I said my mind was made up, he asked, ‘What can I do to support you as you’re transitioning?’” As the employee departs, thank the them for their contributions. Let them know they were appreciated and will be missed, and leave the door open for a return.
Perform an exit interview. Finding out what your organization could do to better retain key talent can help improve the culture, not only to attract back boomerang employees, but to also support your existing ones. Learn how to conduct an exit interview that benefits your company, then put into action the feedback you receive as appropriate.
You may also want to add into your offboarding process measures that help you keep in touch with past employees—such as obtaining their permanent email addresses and receiving permission to keep in touch. In addition, let valued employees know openly they would be welcome back.
Offer severance and outplacement benefits. In addition to employees who leave voluntarily, laid-off employees too should be treated with empathy and respect with the goal to preserve the relationship. After all, should your organization expand in the future, these employees could make the best rehires. Do your best to offer your employees competitive severance packages and outplacement services to protect the employee-employer relationship as much as possible.
Shift the culture. If your departing employees pointed to organizational culture-related reasons for leaving, work to address issues that may be driving workers away. The Seattle Times reports that Microsoft, for example, saw significantly more boomerang employees return to the company after Satya Nadella took over as CEO and enacted a culture shift to create a more collaborative, less competitive environment. If the company takes concrete steps to create a positive culture, employees are unlikely to leave in the first place—and likely to return if they do leave.
Keep in touch. Many companies today actively engage with their ex-employees through alumni programs and newsletters. This allows organizations to leverage their past employees for new contacts, clients, and hires; some companies offer referral bonuses to alums for this purpose.
Of course, keeping in touch with past employees is especially helpful for bringing them back to the company. That’s essentially what happened in Artin’s case. “Toby reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, maybe we can work things out and you can come back here,’” Artin said. This opened the door for his return to Intoo.
Tailor the role. Consider shaping the boomerang employee’s new role to take advantage of their new skills. Your willingness to collaborate with the worker could be the clincher ensuring their return. Bridget Forney, for example, left her position as an account executive and social media strategist at PR agency Profiles to get more experience at other marketing firms. Then Profiles was able to hire her back—this time in a vice president role that let her employ her new capabilities and connections.
Artin, too, was able to negotiate for changes in his position. “Toby and I went back and forth a little bit about some things,” Artin said. “I was happy with almost everything, but I wanted more structure, and more ability to do certain things that I thought were valuable. We talked about doing more code reviews, doing more automated testing, things like that that were dear to my heart. When those aspects were added, it was just ideal and perfect.”
Boomerang employees generally have a good sense of how best they can contribute to your organization—and your organization likely also has a good idea of the returning worker’s strengths and weaknesses. An employee’s return is a valuable opportunity to put all this knowledge into action.
Offer competitive salary and benefits. One big reason many workers jump ship is in search of higher salaries or better benefits, whether that is a flexible work-from-home policy or a progressive family leave policy. To prevent this, HR professionals must stay abreast of what their industry and competitors are offering workers—and offer competitive salaries and benefits not just to incoming employees but existing ones as well.
Artin said Intoo’s practice of recognizing its employees’ contributions generously is a primary reason he returned. “When it comes time for a performance review, most people say you’re supposed to stand up for yourself and say, ‘I believe I deserve a raise. Here’s why, here’s the amount,’” Artin said. “But not all employees are that assertive, for cultural, psychological, or emotional reasons. I’ve been more agreeable in my life—so when Intoo, on its own initiative, would say every year, ‘Hey, we want to give you this extra, we want to take care of you in this way’—That really meant a lot to me. I was always amazed. If you take care of those employees who aren’t as assertive, I think that they will especially appreciate it and be loyal.”
Of course, while boomerang employees are generally great talent pools for employers to recruit from, not all ex employees are appropriate to rehire. If the employee alum doesn’t have skills your organization needs, didn’t work well with colleagues, or had other performance issues, it’s probably best not to ask them to return. Debora specifies that when considering boomerang employees, it’s important to “understand why the employee left in the first place, why they want to return, and why the other job didn’t work out. The same types of things you would consider with any candidate, you should still consider with candidate you know.”
Still, boomerang employees make up an important roster of candidates your organization would benefit from actively pursuing. “Embracing this talent pool rather than sticking with outdated no-rehire policies can be beneficial, from lower recruiting and onboarding costs to higher employee morale and fresh perspectives,” according to SHRM.
Intoo offers outplacement services that helps organizations maintain positive relationships with outgoing employees. Learn more about how our career transition services can assist your employee recruitment and retention strategies.