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What Are the Pros and Cons of Hiring Boomerang Employees?

Key Takeaways

1. In the evolving and increasingly flexible modern workplace, the phenomenon of the ‘boomerang employee’ is on the rise. Companies are recognizing the value and relative ease of recruiting workers who already know their business. Workers are more mobile and open to revisiting former employers.

2. Boomerang employees may offer businesses unique and significant advantages. Recruiting workers already familiar with company culture, goals, and ways of working can cut the time, energy, and money needed to bring in a newcomer and get them up to speed in their role. Someone who has gained new experience or training in another company may also return as a more valuable asset than during their first employment.

3. At the same time, there are potential risks associated with hiring a staff member who has already chosen to leave a company once. If departure were due to one particular issue, HR and business leaders should consider whether the original problem is still in play and likely to cause further disruptions. Risks must be balanced against the potential benefits of a quick, efficient, and more predictable hire.

In a job market where competition for talent is at an all-time high, boomerang employees could offer a competitive advantage. Historically, remaining with one employer long-term and progressing slowly upward through the corporate ranks was a desirable norm. In this context, an ex-employee applying to return might have been something suspicious, with many firms even having HR policies against rehiring. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation that followed, that world is long gone…

What is the definition of a boomerang employee?

Essentially, a boomerang employee is any member of staff who returns to work at a company they’ve previously left. It’s a more common practice in some sectors or industries than others and is often associated with higher-level employees or those with specialist skills. Boomerang employees may even leave and return to the same company several times.

There are all kinds of personal, professional, and societal factors which might prompt an employee to ‘boomerang’ out and back in this way, for example:

  • Changing personal circumstances: An employee may have left a previous role in order to accompany their spouse or partner to a new city or country; to care for children or elderly relatives; to travel; or, to complete an academic degree. As their life circumstances shift again, they may find themselves back in the same city, searching for a job, and looking at their old employer in a new light. [Read: Having an excellent employee experience could make boomerang employees common for you.]
  • Professional opportunity: Someone might leave a company to take up another job which offers promotion or development opportunities not available in their original firm, or which offers a higher salary for the same role. If new opportunities later open up with their previous employer, or pay structures change, an ambitious member of staff might be equally keen to return as they were to leave.
  • Poor management, bullying, or harassment: Bullying, harassment or plain bad management may all prompt staff to leave a company where they were otherwise engaged and productive. If they later learn that problem behaviors and practices have been tackled, bullies dismissed, and new managers appointed, their previous employer may once again become attractive to them [Read: Increasing your employee value proposition may earn you more boomerang employees].
  • Non-permanent boomerangs: Seasonal workers or interns, who have had a taste of life working temporarily in a company, may choose to later return and apply for a permanent and/or more senior role.

Video: CNBC on boomerang employees

See advice for employers considering whether to hire boomerang employees, as well as considerations for how the “stayers” might feel when boomerang employees return.

The pros and cons of hiring boomerang employees

Whether to rehire boomerang employees is a personal choice that must be made by company leadership and the HR department. It may very well be the case that each boomerang employee needs to be closely evaluated on a case-by-case basis. When making your hiring decisions, however, your company should do so with all the facts of what pros and cons are associated with hiring boomerang employees.

What are the benefits of boomerang employees?

Anyone involved in recruitment will know that hiring the best possible employees for your company isn’t a quick, cheap, or easy process. Re-hiring former staff is one way to save costs and lighten the load on HR and managers while boosting overall workforce performance. Deciding to bring a boomerang employee back into the company can be a speedier option with fewer steps than choosing an entirely new recruit. Example benefits include: 

  • 1. Recruitment shortcuts
  • Recruiters may be able to fast-forward the recruitment process for boomerang employees. Due diligence may already have been done on a boomerang employee’s qualifications, criminal record, and professional background during their original recruitment, necessitating only a lighter touch review for recent gaps and experience. Where security checks or safeguarding are significant elements of recruitment for a role, these shortcuts could reduce timelines and costs significantly.
  • 2. Predictability of recruitment
  • Managers and HR may also still hold records and personal memory of staff performance strengths and weaknesses during their first employment. This can make it quicker and easier to assess whether a boomerang candidate is a suitable fit for a specific role and team. Totally new recruits are relatively unknown quantities in comparison, with companies estimating their likely performance based on CVs, qualifications, and references. In both cases, it may be a good idea to implement a probation policy to make sure it’s a good fit for both parties. 
  • 3. More efficient induction
  • Boomerang employees should already be familiar with corporate culture, processes, and ways of working, as long as these have not changed significantly since their original departure. This can mean less time, energy, and money spent on onboarding to get a new staff member integrated into a team, up to speed with tasking, and able to add value to the company.
  • 4. Easier socialization
  • A boomerang employee may still be well-known to existing staff, and able to fit back neatly into team discussions, workflows, and socials with minimal disruption. With a completely new employee, colleagues will be working out their personal and professional expectations and understanding from scratch, potentially slowing down a team or network’s functioning until the new colleague is fully assimilated.

Infographic: Boomerang employees statistics

boomerang employees
Infographic on boomerang employees from Accountemps (a Robert Half Company)

What are the cons of hiring boomerang employees?

There can also be downsides to bringing back boomerang employees. Business and HR leaders should consider certain factors carefully before re-recruiting. Potential disadvantages largely depend on the employee’s reasons for leaving the company the first time around but may include:

  • 1. Outdated knowledge or perspective
  • If a company’s culture or ways of working have changed significantly, a boomerang employee may have to unlearn the way things used to be and adapt to the current working environment. It is important that boomerang employees are fully aware and accepting of significant changes that may have occurred across a company before they commit to returning. Harking back to the past could otherwise slow progress and irritate others.
  • 2. Old frictions in working relationships
  • If a boomerang employee left the company previously due to some issue with colleagues or managers, the same issues may well recur if the same people are still working at the company. HR leaders should be confident that boomerang employees are able to work constructively with key former colleagues before bringing them back on board.
  • 3. Disengagement
  • Boomerang employees may feel comfortable but insufficiently challenged when returning to a working environment where they previously had mastery of a role. Both employees and HR should consider whether a returning staff member has sufficient enthusiasm for the job, and sufficient challenge in their work to drive them and maintain engagement. Engagement is important for remote workers as well as those on-site, with different strategies needed for each.
  • 4. Lack of commitment
  • Having left a firm once could indicate less commitment to a company and a greater likelihood of leaving for a second time. This possibility should be considered in the context of training and other resource investment in the boomerang employee. (NB This may be a lesser consideration in a modern and more flexible workplace than was historically assumed by HR departments. Recent research finds that ‘boomeranging’ back into a company may actually increase satisfaction and organizational commitment in comparison to matched internal employees.)

A final word

With employment flexibility and mobility continuing to increase, businesses should be prepared to field increasing levels of interest in their roles from former staff members. Horizons can help ensure that your business makes intelligent and compliant hiring decisions, for both familiar and new employees, anywhere in the world. Contact us today for a quote and to find out what we could do for you. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

A boomerang employee is a staff member who leaves an employer for whatever reason, and then returns, like a boomerang. The employee may leave and return only once or several times. They may also leave and return either to the same role, or to a different role within the same organization.

In the past, many companies were suspicious of boomerang employees and even had HR policies excluding their recruitment. Now, the idea of leaving and returning to a company has been more normalized and is becoming a distinct and permanent feature of the wider recruitment landscape. HR leaders should therefore familiarize themselves with the concept and its implications for their company. 

In industries which require high levels of training, experience and/or certification, boomerang employees who come already-checked and fully-equipped with all professional pre-requisites could be a boon for companies looking to save on recruitment and induction costs.

Businesses with the following characteristics can benefit from partnering with a Global PEO: 

  • SME’s with between 1-100 international employees.
  • Top-tier enterprises with more than 100 international employees looking to expand quickly and compliantly.
  • Businesses that need to commence operations in a new country quickly and at a lower cost; when compared to establishing their own foreign subsidiary.
  • Businesses that do not have the financial or staffing resources needed to expand with their own entity.
  • Any business that is planning a short-to-medium length expansion; that does not have plans for an indefinite market presence. 

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