The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Boomerang Employees… Lessons Learned from Marketing


A recent article in Harvard Business Review talks about the marketing practices and strategies of enticing customers to return to your organization, and how that can be more cost effective and realistic than trying to attract new customers that know nothing of your product and services. There is a supporting article relating to employees in Workplace Trends.

In the 1980’s, it was common for organizations to have a policy against re-hiring employees. There was an emotional reaction that they had left the “family” and would not be welcomed back. I had always felt that to be a strange decision that did not benefit the goals of the organization. I was thrilled to have employees return, and welcomed them with open arms!

Some of the reasons that were important to me included…

  1. They know you… and you know them! Culture is the biggest issue when hiring new employees. In a 45-minute interview it can be difficult to tell if they will fit with the team. But with returning employees, you know they fit. And none of our cultures are perfect – we all have blemishes and the returning employee knows what they are. By returning to your team they’ve made the decision to deal with you as you are.
  2. They know the systems – likely you’ve invested time and money training them, only to loose these skills to the competition. Why not have them come back, with an outside view of how things might have been improved at the competition!
  3. Many employees leave because they were disgruntled about a policy, procedure or perceived inequity… but they quickly find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence! If they have spent time at your competition, or left the industry or region all together, there will be stories to share. I have found that my boomerang employees have helped me retain other employees by sharing their story and being vocal about why they returned.

And the big lesson aligned with our friends in marketing…..

  1. Finding them is easier then finding random people! Recruiting is one of the most time consuming and difficult jobs of management. Our managers often don’t have the proper training, and rarely have enough time to do it right. (of course, our recruiting training can help with that! If you do use an external resource for recruiting, it can be very expensive.

Creating an Alumni network is one of my favorite recruiting strategies. The large multi-national organizations are great at this. They have private linked in groups and special events as a way to stay engaged with top performers.  Maintaining contact with top performers doesn’t have to be for the large corporations.  Smaller organizations can stay engaged in a much more simple way. Consider inviting former employees to company events, send them holiday and birthday cards – and be sure to acknowledge them on social media. The critical element in this program is that you select the top few employees that you would be excited to have back.

A great Forbes article talks about the advantages of employees coming back to work.  According to the article, 76% of HR professionals and 66% of manager are open to re-hiring former employees.  This was not the case 10 – 15 years ago.  What’s interesting is that 40% of employees in the survey state they would be interested in returning to a former employer, but unless someone reaches out to them they won’t ask to come back.

Often, employees leave because there is no room to grown in their current organization. If you have teams that are filled with top talent, how many can actually become the manger? It may be that an employee feels their skills would be enhanced by learning another industry beyond the space your organization is known for. And in our mobile society, it may be that other issues took them out of your geographic area for some period of time – but now they’re back. And don’t discount remote workers – study after study shows that they are more productive then those that come to the office.

Funny side note – I am writing the blog on a flight to a conference in Austin, and I sat next to a regional manager of a national firm who was reading this over my shoulder. We had a great conversation about the fact that in her organization almost half of the boomerang employees left soon after returning. It’s an odd phenomenon, and one that is against conventional wisdom, but should be explored. In all organizations, we have to analyze our own data and be sure the decisions we make are right for our team.

A final suggestion when thinking about re-hiring a former employee is to be sure their motivation is aligned with long term success. Consider the reason they left originally, what they have accomplished in the interim and the new skills or competencies they bring to the workforce. By hiring top talent that have added to their repertoire you will be adding value to the organization.

Photo used under the following license.

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