In an episode of “The Simpsons”, Homer leaves his longtime job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant to pursue his dreams of being a professional bowler. A short time later, reality sets in and he returns to the power plant to grovel for his job back, at the feet of the merciless Mr. Burns. That’s an extreme situation (and should never involve actual groveling in real life), but it illustrates something that happens not infrequently in hiring: the boomerang employee.
Boomerangs are employees who left the company for whatever reason, only to come back later—whether in a new role, or a version of their old one. Reasons for this can vary. Maybe the new job wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be, and the person changed their mind. Maybe a too-good-to-pass-up job opened up at your company, providing a growth opportunity that wasn’t available before. Or maybe quitting was necessary or sounded like a good idea during the Great Resignation, and turned out to be a misstep. Whatever the reasons, it means that the person has decided that your company is better than what’s out there, and they want back in.
It’s never easy when a team member leaves your company to pursue opportunities somewhere else. Professionally, you get it. Personally, you might feel a bit offended (why didn’t they want to stay)? Either way, here’s why (and how) you should welcome such boomerang employees back to the fold.
Remember that leaving isn’t necessarily disloyalty
Human nature being what it is, you might feel a little bit grudge-y that someone who chose to leave now wants to come back. And part of that process might be questioning whether this person should come back. The important thing here is to remember that choosing to leave one job and take another is a personal decision. That employee made the right decision for themselves at the time, just like any of us would.
If the employee left on bad terms, then of course you’d be right to not want them back. (Exhibit A for why one should never burn bridges on the way out.) If they left on perfectly amicable, professional terms, though, it seems harsh to hold their personal career decision against them. This is especially true in industries that feel like a small world, with people bouncing between a relatively small number of companies. People follow opportunities, but sometimes the pool of those opportunities is limited.
Boomerang employees bring back more experience and skills
Many people leave their jobs to take other jobs that will help them grow and develop professionally. By the time they want to come back to you, they’re bringing those skills and that deeper perspective with them. Even if the new role is similar to the one they held before, at your company, you’re getting back someone who’s gone out, developed, and brought that maturity back to your team.
Boomerang employees save you time and money
Hiring a previous employee is similar to promoting or hiring from within. You already have a dossier of knowledge about this person: how they work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they fit in with your company culture. Alumni need less time to adjust to a new role because they already know how the company works and have existing coworker relationships. That base knowledge can help you expedite the hiring process, cutting down on the time-to-hire and cost-to-hire, as well as recruiting costs.
You can recover from the Great Resignation faster
With so much in flux with employees in just about every industry, so many organizations are struggling with recruiting and hiring right now. If you have former employees who are ready to come back and fill these roles, the convenience factor can help you manage an unprecedented number of openings, and make sure that your company is staying on track.
Be open to the idea of a fresh start
If the employee left because of specific issues, think of this as a chance to start fresh. As part of the hiring process, be frank about why they left, whether things have changed, and whether the person is a good fit for the company as it is now. If version 2.0 really is not going to be a good fit, and bad habits/patterns will continue, then you shake hands, and you move on to another candidate. But if both parties agree that moving forward is possible, then it’s worth pursuing.
Keep the door open when anyone leaves
Being open to boomeranging doesn’t mean you have to welcome back someone who was horrible on the way out, or who was fired for a very clear cause. If the person left on decent terms, make sure they know that they’d be welcomed back if the opportunity arises in the future. It also can’t hurt to maintain “alumni” networking, made easier these days by social media, LinkedIn, and other digital networking that keeps us more connected than ever.
Making people feel welcome—even as they leave—helps foster a culture of belonging. Occasional outreach, even if just an email once a year after they leave, can make it easier for a good employee to come back down the road. A strong alumni network has recruiting benefits beyond finding and identifying potential boomerangs; even if an employee doesn’t come back, they’re more likely to recommend you as an employer if they had a good experience even after they left.
Boomerang employees should be seen as an opportunity to have experienced, known people back on your team—not an occasion to hold Mr. Burns-style grudges about disloyal quitters. Your company will be all the better for it, and it could even make your recruiting and hiring life easier along the way.