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The Pros and Cons of Boomerang Employees

Kristin Bachman
6 min read

The Great Resignation led to a wave of people leaving their jobs for what they perceived to be better positions. However, many job leavers have realized that new jobs aren't always as great as they seem. In fact, 43% of people who quit their jobs admit they were better off at their old job, and almost 20% of them actually decided to return to the jobs they quit. That 20% is the focus of today's article: boomerang employees.

Boomerang employees are becoming top picks for vacant positions. There are twice as many people leaving their jobs now as there were before the pandemic, and at least 33% of existing employees are active job seekers. Boomerang employees help fill this growing job vacancy gap.

Below, we'll explain why boomerang employees matter and how you can support them so they perform optimally.

What Is a Boomerang Employee?

As touched on above, a boomerang employee is a worker who returns to their previous employer after leaving their old job for a new position elsewhere. The name was coined from the boomerang effect: If you throw a boomerang, it comes right back to you. These candidates often provide an untapped talent pool filled with the perfect candidates for hard-to-fill vacancies.

But why leave a company in the first place only to return a year or more later? Boomerang employees usually leave a company for the first time for one (or more) of these reasons:

  • No growth opportunities 
  • Inflexible or poor company culture
  • Changes in employee’s personal life (requiring relocation)
  • Tension between employee and coworkers

Pros and Cons of Hiring Boomerang Employees 

Hiring a boomerang employee seems like a great idea: Who wouldn’t want to rehire a former employee who was a star at their job? But this decision has pros and cons that you should carefully consider before having former hires rejoin the team.

Pros of Boomerang Employees

  • They’re already familiar with the company culture and can be onboarded more quickly than a new hire.
  • Hiring boomerang employees cuts recruitment time significantly. Your company will save time and spend less money using multiple recruitment methods to fill a vacancy. That’s why adding an active company alumni network to your talent pool is important. You would already be consistently engaging with former employees, which makes it easier for you to convince them to return.
  • There’s less risk of boomerang employees leaving the company again or not succeeding in their roles. The risk is higher with new hires.
  • Boomerang employees who have been away long enough bring new skills and experiences into the organization.

Cons of Boomerang Employees

  • There may be a sense of dissatisfaction if you don’t address the reasons the employees left while they were away. This can lead to the boomerang employee creating conflict within the team.
  • A study shows that there are instances where the performance of boomerang employees was similar to that of new or internal hires. There was neither an increase nor a decrease in performance. A boomerang employee who’s not living up to expectations is likely to be laid off, leading to wasted resources, time, and effort.
  • Some current employees probably won’t be happy when former employees return and get jobs they believe they should have. There’s a fine line between internal job mobility and hiring externally to find the perfect hire.
  • Things have probably changed since the former employee left, and the boomerang employee may resist these changes.

How Long Do Boomerang Employees Stay?

The average boomerang employee returns to their former employer about 13 months after leaving. And when they return, they’re more likely to stick around. Boomerang employees have consistently lower turnover rates than industry averages for all employees.

Here’s an example of a boomerang employee who has stayed at a company for several years after returning.

Norma Mathala, Vocational Consultant at Pearson Education, left the company in 2011. But she made a conscious decision to return to the company after five years. She returned in November 2016 as a Key Account Specialist and currently works for the company in her current role of Vocational Consultant.

Yahoo is another company that encourages boomerang employees. Greg Sly was a Senior Director at the company from 2002 to 2012. He left, worked at Intuit from 2012 to 2015, and then at Oath. He returned to Yahoo as their VP of Operations Engineering from 2015 to 2022.

One of the things he loved about the company’s culture that drew him back was its transparency: There were weekly FYI sessions where the company’s leaders would share the performance of the entire company with the staff. Employees also had other opportunities to ask questions to members of senior management.

4 Best Practices for Managing Boomerang Employees

There are two important considerations when hiring boomerang employees — the employee’s past performance and their expectations. Below, we discuss four best practices that will help you tackle both core areas, whether the onboarding process is done virtually, in person, or uses a mixture of both. 

1) Look for Boomerang Employees With a Good Track Record

You may be looking at the boomerang employee’s past performance with some bias because you need to fill a vacant role fast. Pause for a minute: You may remember things more positively than they actually were.

Carefully review the employee’s performance reviews from their time working at the company. Did the employee leave on good terms, or were there red flags? Are those red flags deal-breakers?

Also, speak with the manager or C-suite executive directly responsible for that person in their previous role. What feedback does this manager have about the boomerang employee’s attitude and performance? This is valuable information that you can't get from a reference letter or resume.

Another important consideration is whether the returning employee has acquired new skills that would be useful for the vacant role. Some employees post their skill sets and experiences on LinkedIn, which is one way to get that information. Their resume is another source, but you should support what you see on it with information you get directly from the person during the interview process.

2) Be Transparent in Your Interview Process

Expectations should be clear. During the interview process, give returning employees opportunities to express their expectations about company culture, higher pay, benefits, work-life balance, and everything that matters most to them.

Have an honest conversation so that you can manage their expectations. You don’t want to over promise as a way to reel the employee in, only for them to realize that things aren't as described.

Be honest about changes within the company since the employee left. It also helps to build change management training into your hiring process so that returning employees don’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated by changes they weren't aware of.

3) Always Leave the Opportunity Open

Employees leaving your company should feel like there are no hard feelings and they can return when vacancies arise. This is particularly true for those employees you wouldn't mind having as part of your team. They’ll become company advocates and welcome opportunities to return.

The offboarding process for people who are moving on shouldn’t only question why they’re leaving. Instead, it should provide opportunities to:

  • Congratulate employees on their next career moves.
  • Express gratitude for the employee’s contribution to the company.
  • Invite the employee to be part of the company’s alumni network.

As previously mentioned, your company’s alumni network is where you keep the connection with former employees alive. Pulling employees who are leaving (on good terms) into this network helps them quickly access open opportunities when they’re ready.

4) Have an Informative and Actionable Onboarding Process

Although the onboarding process for returning employees takes less time than the process for new hires, this doesn’t mean returning employees should be left to figure things out on their own. The onboarding process for boomerang workers should include:

  • An orientation that explains changes within the company and how those changes impact the worker’s team and workflow
  • Introductions to the entire company and the team the returning employee will be working with
  • A clear 30-60-90 day plan
  • Periodic check-ins to ensure the returning employee is adjusting well and has the necessary resources and support

Sample Interview Questions for Boomerang Employees

Interviewing previous employees is significantly different from interviewing new candidates: You have an established professional relationship with the person and already know plenty about their strengths and weaknesses, so traditional interview questions won't help much. Below, we've provided a list of questions that should form the core of your interview process for boomerang workers.

  • What new skills and experience have you gained since leaving the company?
  • Do you have any unresolved issues with the company and your former coworkers that we should know about? How likely is it that these issues would make you want to leave the company again?
  • Why are you returning now?
  • What do you expect from this new role?
  • What growth opportunities are you looking for here?
  • What excites you most about this new role and returning to the company?
  • How has your perspective of the company changed since you left?

Hire Qualified Boomerang Employees With Hunt Club

Boomerang employees are assets, especially when you maintain an active company alumni network filled with people you’d actually want to rehire. But hiring boomerang employees will also force you to look closely at how current team members feel about this returning employee, what caused the former employee to leave in the first place, and your company's growth opportunities.

Hunt Club simplifies the process of hiring qualified boomerang employees. Get in touch with us, and we’ll show you how our team of experts can make each part of your full-cycle recruiting process a breeze.

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