When they leave, go work for someone else and then come right back to you; normally within one to two years – that’s a boomerang employee. One international survey suggested that as many as 20% of employees who quit during the pandemic had boomeranged, although other data from LinkedIn put the figure in 2021 at a more modest 5%. Either way, it is a phenomenon that all business owners should be aware.
Why do they leave?
As owner-managed agencies, it’s understandable to take it personally when someone leaves (how dare they?!). It’s really common for agency owners’ reactions to an employee wanting to come back to be an instant ‘no’ but that’s usually an emotional response (unless you dismissed them of course!), so let’s explore other ways of thinking about this.
It could be the promise of better pay or promotion that motivates employees to leave; or perhaps they feel stuck in a rut, have fallen out with colleagues or have challenges that they cannot overcome.
When the resignation letter arrives on your desk you may already have a pretty clear idea whether you would want to work with them again (or shudder at the thought). Such gut instinct will undoubtedly come into any future decision-making, but there is a bit more to weigh up.
Here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of welcoming boomerang employees back.
Pros of hiring boomerang employees
Familiarity and adaptability: They hit the ground running upon their return – they already know where everything is, who most people are, what the clients like/hate, so they can just crack on with it. They have knowledge of your culture, processes and relationships – this familiarity enables them to quickly integrate back into their roles in so much less time, and is less disruptive than a brand new hire.
Fresh perspectives: They’ve gone away, got a different perspective, picked up valuable experience and brought it back – they will have ideas! Embrace that! Their exposure in another business or another industry can bring ideas, process improvements, increased efficiencies and innovation, so our advice is to cultivate that, embrace it – you never know what value that could bring.
Commitment and loyalty: Having left you and returned, it is a strong indication that a boomerang employee realises that things are not always better elsewhere. If they come back, you can be relatively confident that they will stick around – they’ve seen what it’s like out there and it might not have been that pretty so they will value what you have to offer more than they did before. Think about what this translates to – higher levels of engagement and reduced turnover rates.
Access to a significant talent pool: When recruitment markets are tough (as they have been lately) keep in touch with your leavers because they might not feel confident to say they want to come back if there’s been no contact. Best to spend a few minutes every now and again, keeping in touch rather than spend thousands on recruitment agency fees!
Cons of hiring boomerang employees
Internal dynamics: What if they come back in higher positions than their old colleagues? How will that impact your relationship with those loyal staff that have stayed with you and not disappeared off? The last thing we need is resentment building. Existing employees who have remained loyal might feel overlooked so be really careful of managing those internal relationships carefully. Being transparent is key here – be open about the reasons for bringing someone back and emphasise the experience they’ve gained whilst being away and your expectations for their return.
Persistent issues: What drove them away in the first place? Is that issue still there? Could your employee run into the same issues again? If you conduct exit interviews then you will know the reasons that an individual left so analyse this feedback, and see if you’ve implemented changes since then. If you haven’t, be honest about it and have an open conversation with that person before you make an offer to return. This ensures a positive work experience if they do decide to come back because they know what they are walking into.
Nostalgia: As an agency, you might have moved on and they could keep harking back to ‘the good old days’. You don’t want to be dragged backwards. They might be surprised at changes you’ve made, and prefer things the way they were so you might meet resistance. Don’t let this hinder progress so it’s really important that you manage expectations and be open about your standards moving forwards.
Staff Retention Perspective
While acknowledging the potential of boomerang employees might be a viable and indeed beneficial aspect of recruitment, it is equally important to focus on staff retention. Each team member’s value should be recognised and nurtured within the current context. If you are seeking a comprehensive review of your staff retention strategies or assistance with developing a robust employee engagement plan, reach out to an experienced HR partner, like the HR Dept.