The rise of the boomerang employee
For many, the Great Resignation has been a time of new roles, new opportunities, and career changes. Some have called it the Great Reset.
Anthony Klotz predicted ‘The Great Resignation’ in 2020, citing poor working conditions, toxic workplaces, uncertainty over job security, a lack of career progression opportunities and a reappraisal of personal and professional priorities as the reasons for a global mass redeployment of employees across all disciplines and sectors.
However, portions of the working population are beginning to realise that the grass is not always greener and wanting to return to their previous roles, the ‘Great Rehire’ could soon be upon us. These employees are becoming known as ‘boomerang employees. This is a phenomenon that we saw take off in the wake of the pandemic. According to LinkedIn, in 2021 4.5% of new recruits on its platform were boomerangs, up from 3.9% in 2019.
But why would they want to return to a previous job, and what are the benefits for the employers who rehire their old employees?
Why would an employee want to return to a previous job?
Whether an employee took a new role but changed their mind, or couldn’t find a new job, there are as many reasons why an employee would want to return to their old job.
Employees might discover that they can negotiate to return to a better salary or better working conditions. The stats show that boomerangs are better paid than employees who never left.
Workers are tired. They’re stressed. They’re more burnt out than ever. Some employees left their roles because they just needed a rest. Whether that’s to re-evaluate their personal life, their work life balance, for their own mental health and wellbeing, or to look after a loved one, rest and recalibration is absolutely a valid reason to step back from a job. When that worker is feeling recharged, they may feel ready to return to the same job or the same company.
It could be that the worker started a new role and didn’t enjoy their new duties, their new manager, their team, or the company culture. It’s never appropriate to dig into this, but we all know it happens.
Or perhaps a loyal employee left because of personal reasons which unexpectedly changed, such as a family member moving location and then being able to move back. And we know employers don’t like to hear this, but perhaps the personal reason was that the worker simply didn’t enjoy their job. And then upon leaving, the worker may have had an epiphany that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
Technology and digital transformation
Almost overnight, technology has enabled roles that were traditionally never considered remote to become remote. If an employee left a role because they wanted to relocate but their job was not previously supported in a remote setting, and technology can now support it, an employee may well feel inspired to return.
Indeed, the remote-work genie is out of the bottle. Digital nomadism comes in many shapes and forms, and now that many workplaces have put the infrastructure in place, employers are able to offer the flexibility that many workers are looking for to support their desired lifestyle.
Another possible reason for return is that in the worker’s absence, the company has gone to great lengths to improve the workplace and company culture and can now offer benefits like remote or hybrid working. In these cases, a former employee could very well be tempted to return to an old employer if the cultural transformation addressed issues that were part of their reason for leaving.
Should an employer rehire a former worker?
Each and any decision to hire or rehire is entirely down to the company and the applicant, and their individual circumstances.
But if you’re worried about whether to take a former employee back just on principle, it is important to consider that there may be many benefits to rehiring an ex-employee.
The benefits for employers
Boomerangs outperform new hires
Cornell’s study compared the post-hire performance of 2,053 boomerang or returning employees and 10,858 new hires over an eight-year period in a large health care organisation. The results showed that the returning employees outperformed the new hires, especially in roles requiring “high levels of administrative coordination.”
Returning employees have a familiarity with their role and their previous company, as well as valuable insights gained from their experience elsewhere, often working for rival organisations. This gives them a competitive edge over new hires who need to pick up skills and specialisations for their role which take some time to learn.
Time and cost savings
Thus, re-hires require less training and less inducting which can save businesses significant time and money. As they already know the job and the team, they are also less of a risk than a new hire.
The value of soft skills
It’s not just experience within a rival firm which is valuable to an employer when rehiring a former employee. Boomerangs often return with greater confidence and a more rounded skill set than had they stayed in their original role. From dealing with managers to collaborating with colleagues, boomerangs bring their newly gained experience with them and tend to return afresh with useful insights and skills that can benefit the whole organisation.
Technical vacancies can be hard to fill. That’s why in the IT industry it is common to rehire former employees to fill technical roles because they already have the experience and skills needed for the job. In June 2021 researchers interviewed 39 boomerang employees in IT and found that most were happy with their jobs when they returned because they had been able to negotiate better terms and conditions to return to.
Tips for employers
Be prepared to pay more and offer greater benefits to returning employees
But be aware of penalising loyalty by paying boomerangs more than your current workers. You may need to review your employee value proposition as well as your existing benefits package for your current employees.
Proactively manage your company culture
Things have changed a lot since the pandemic, and if you’re offering perks like flexibility, hybrid working, remote opportunities and workplace wellbeing programs, you’ll be better placed to attract the best candidates. A strong, positive company culture can also help boost retention and reduce the risk of losing staff (again).