Dear Employers: Are Boomerang Employees Part of Your Hiring Strategy?

Don’t take it personal when good employees leave. Do increase the chances they’ll return.

It's a new labor market out there. With never-before-seen quit rates and demand for workers outpacing the availability of them, companies are scrambling to update policies, shorten hiring practices, and put forward best offers to attract new people, but especially hold on to the ones they already have. Still, it won't always work.

At least, not in the immediate.

But if companies play their cards right, those employees might just return.

According to LinkedIn, Boomerang employees are on the rise comprising 4.5 percent of all new hires in 2021, compared to 3.9 percent in 2019. And for good reason. Consider these advantages:

  • They know what they left, and they still want to return. Which means, despite their reasons for leaving in the first place, they felt a connection to the culture, the people, the mission, and the work, or all the above. Boomerang employees aren't accepting offers blindly, they're returning knowing exactly what to expect.
  • Recruitment and onboarding processes are less costly and more efficient. Boomerang employees often return through existing connections at the company and with a solid understanding of the ins and outs.
  • Boomerangs demonstrate higher levels of performance. Research conducted at Cornell University found that Boomerang employees outperformed new-hire counterparts and received promotions earlier, largely due to their familiarity with systems and nuances within the company.
  • They share new perspectives and opportunities to improve. Employees who left for new challenges or experiences often return with new ideas and perspectives that help the company see new possibilities and ways of doing things.

Framework for Building a Boomerang Strategy

Ideally, a company's Boomerang strategy begins long before the employee even considers leaving: Employers are curious about needs and interests, provide opportunities for growth and advancement, demonstrate care for them as individuals. When an employee decides to leave (and assuming they were a valuable employee) a well-thought-out Boomerang Strategy shifts slightly to answers this question:

How can we support their transition and create a positive exit experience for them so that they'll consider a return in the future?

Of course, the specifics of a Boomerang strategy will vary by company, but there are a few universal components every strategy should include:

Don't Take it Personal

While it may be painful to lose a good employee, it should never be taken personally. Todd Soulier, Director of Strategic Operations at Actalent—and a boomerang employee himself—says this, "Never take it personal. Leaving a job is the individual's decision to make and we can never know all the factors contributing to the decision. Treat them with respect and dignity and prioritise their last impression of you and the company as they transition. If the door is open for them to return—either to their current role or a different one—tell them. They may just take you up on it one day."

In fact, more than 92 percent of managers indicate they'd hire back a boomerang employee, provided the employee left on good terms.

Be Curious

When an employee leaves, it's a great opportunity to receive feedback on what went well for them and what could've been better. "My interest in and care for people doesn't end with their employment," says Robbie Krattiger, Strategic Operations Recruiter at Actalent. "I continue to stay interested in their goals and aspirations—and learning what they are looking for in the next experience, particularly in terms of what they weren't getting here is valuable information we use to improve our value proposition here." Robbie would know the importance of this, he's also a Boomerang employee who never lost touch with his former colleagues. "What I loved about my job with Actalent was the opportunity to lead and develop people. I wasn't doing a whole lot of that in my new job, and I discovered that was important to me. Through leaving, I gained deeper self-awareness that's useful in my life and in my current role, coaching and developing new employees. I ask much better questions and ask them more often."

Stay In Touch

Relationships may change when an employee leaves, but they don't have to end. In fact, it was a connection with a former colleague that sparked Robbie's return to Actalent. "A former colleague reached out about some initiatives that sounded exciting to me. It got me thinking about some of the other things I missed at Actalent, and the company made it easy for me to return. Now, I'm back doing what I love: developing people and their careers."

A sense of belonging is what keeps people at companies, it's also why they return. Putting in the effort and making it easy for former workers to stay updated on and involved in the community of an organisation they've left helps to incentivise their return.

"Finding ways to alert former employees to new opportunities and roles within the company—whether through personal outreach or even targeted advertising is a great way to let them know there is a place for them here should they choose to return," said Todd.

Keep Working on Culture

An employee may leave for new opportunities, but as this article points out, they'll return for the culture and the relationships. When companies have articulated values and beliefs that align with actions, behaviors, and experiences, it builds credibility, both with existing and former employees.

But just like relationships, maintaining that alignment takes work. Provide mechanisms for feedback from existing and exiting employees, listen to the feedback, and invest resources to improve areas of need.

Ideally, former employees won't boomerang back to the same organisation, they'll boomerang back to an even better one.

Relevant Insights

For more on the current labor market, quit rates, and retention efforts, check out our three-part Fire Series: