Boomerang employees – people who return to a previous employer – are a valuable part of the talent landscape. LinkedIn estimates that 4.5% of employees have returned to a previous employer, and 40% of employees have said they’d consider a boomerang move. It’s only a decade ago that HR teams widely reported ‘no rehire’ policies, but this has changed dramatically, and now 76% of HR professionals are open to hiring a boomerang employee (Raveendra et al., 2021).
Boomerangs offer the positive attributes of an internal hire – a known quantity, organisational understanding and knowledge, and have ready-made internal networks and credibility – alongside the benefits of an external hire, including new knowledge and experience gained in other organisations. A boomerang hire is cost-effective with reduced time to productivity. Boomerangs are also better performers if the interim employer gave them practical experience, or when the boomerang role requires relationship building or administrative coordination (Synder et al., 2021; Keller et al., 2021).
What does this mean for a talent management strategy? One part of the answer is in creating an ‘employee lifecycle’ in the truest sense of the term, which supports great employees if they choose to leave and gain valuable experience elsewhere, and then makes it easy for them to boomerang back.
There are a couple of elements to this, and the first is arguably the most contentious and has the most potential to transform the employee lifecycle and experience.
1. Don’t make it hard for people to leave when they want to
There are thousands of employees within large corporate organisations who have reached the ‘redundancy tipping point’, i.e., the point in their tenure at which they will – come hell or high water – stay in the job unless they are made redundant, or take voluntary redundancy. This isn’t the UK statutory redundancy pay (broadly one week’s pay per year of service, capped at 20 years), but the enhanced redundancy pay outs which can genuinely be life changing and that people feel they have ‘earned’ over years in a corporate role. The promise of this redundancy payday keeps people plugging away, uninspired and disengaged, but unwilling to leave without being pushed. They are a huge barrier for people to leave; it’s the big elephant in the room.
A truly employee-centric model would pay people well, and give them great opportunities for development and advancement, so equipping them for their next step – wherever that is, without hamstringing them when they feel they want to move on.
2. Don’t try to retain talent at all costs but do make it easy for great performers to come back
Talent retention matters. But by taking a longer-term, more nuanced view, companies can allow for investment in development and talent to pay dividends when that talent boomerangs back with the associated cost efficiencies and higher performance.
Enshrining boomerangs in your talent strategy changes the conversation with current employees. Communications reflect an ongoing relationship with great performers over the course of a career, inside and outside the company. Line managers and HR can have honest conversations about where next, and gain valuable insight into where the organisation can, and cannot fulfil current ambitions. Yet. And managers and leadership can celebrate great performing leavers and boomerangs. It’s normalised and encouraged. The days of “burning your bridges” at resignation are long gone, but many organisations haven’t made the next step to more explicit conversations about supporting, or orchestrating, a return.
3. Don’t waste the advocacy opportunity
When someone leaves an organisation they go with the potential to 1) advocate for the company and become a beacon of brand goodwill 2) be neutral, or 3) roll their eyes every time the company is mentioned. Regardless of performance, how someone is treated when they leave a company matters. Everyone has horror stories of rogue managers getting angry and then giving them the silent treatment for the duration of their notice period. These stories aside, there should be explicit expectations of manager behaviour when someone resigns coupled with support in place for that manager to work through the disruption and onboard someone new. Because in the heat of the moment, a badly handled resignation conversation can lose a great performer, and a stellar brand advocate, forever.
The employee lifecycle is circular, not linear, and employers have the opportunity to be more explicit about and open to a long-standing on-again, off-again relationship with great performers, and to build their employee experience, including great alumni and returners experiences, on that premise.
Keller, J. R., Kehoe, R. R., Bidwell, M., Collings, D., & Myer, A. (2021). In with the old? Examining when boomerang employees outperform new hires. Academy of Management Journal, 64(6), 1654-1684.
Raveendra, P. V., & Satish, Y. M. (2021). Boomerang hiring: Strategy for sustainable development in COVID-19 era. Human Systems Management, (Preprint), 1-6.
Snyder, D. G., Stewart, V. R., & Shea, C. T. (2021). Hello again: managing talent with boomerang employees. Human Resource Management, 60(2), 295-312.
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