In the aftermath of the “Great Resignation,” yet another unexpected trend is emerging on the talent horizon: the rise of boomerang employees. This trend differs from the more prevalent quiet quitting and rage-applying patterns we’ve witnessed. These are the individuals who, during the pandemic, decided to embark on new career journeys only to make a U-turn back to their former workplaces. Recent reports indicate that over 20% of those who left their jobs during the pandemic have returned to their original employers, and that number is on the rise.1
An unexpected plot twist in the employment story, many see this phenomenon as a double-edged sword, presenting both opportunities and challenges.
The Rise of Boomerang Employees
The boomerang trend does not extend uniformly across industries. Among those most affected, retail takes the lead with a robust 33%, manufacturing follows at 25%, and tech at 14%.2 But just what is behind this surprising about-face?
This trend finds its roots in two fundamental drivers. The first is tied to unmet expectations. As alluring promises made during the recruitment and hiring process gradually dimmed into disappointment, a significant cohort of employees regretted their move. Whether due to unmet contractual obligations or a perceived breach of the employee value proposition, these let-downs magnetize employees and compel them to return to their former positions.
The strength of social bonds also proves to be a key influence in the decision-making process. The closer employees feel to their former team members, the more likely they will entertain the idea of making a comeback.
Boomerang Employees: Pros and Cons
Hiring a boomerang employee who has left the organization has advantages and disadvantages, and it’s essential to consider both sides. On the positive side, rehiring a former employee can yield a quick ramp-up as they bring valuable institutional knowledge when they return to work. Their skills are a known, and in instances where they can attest to improvements and quality of work, they can have a positive impact on morale. Moreover, boomerang employees bring fresh perspectives from their experiences outside the organization, potentially offering new insights.
However, there are cons to boomerang employees as well. They might resist changes that have occurred during their absence, which can create tension in the workplace and hurt company culture. There’s also the risk of overlooking stronger candidates while focusing on employees who left. Consider why a previous employee leaves and whether unresolved issues might resurface in the long term. Lastly, boomerang employees could still be a flight risk, returning temporarily while seeking better opportunities elsewhere. Thus, when considering rehiring a former employee, it’s vital to assess the situation carefully.
Traversing the retention landscape
From a retention perspective, a few key strategies may help employers maintain retention:
- Alignment of Expectations: To reduce the risk of employees returning to previous employers, it is imperative to bridge the gap between recruiting and management. Candidates need a realistic view of the position before signing on, to prepare them for the challenges they may encounter. With a clear picture of what they agreed to, employees can address challenges from a place of empowerment vs. dissolution.
- Cultivating Post-Onboarding Success: While effective onboarding can significantly influence retention, many organizations need help to retain potential boomerang employees beyond their first year. At the one-year mark, the bloom tends to be off the rose. At this point, employees who have failed to assimilate often consider other options.3 To combat this trend, employers should invest in engagement programs for employees entering their second year.
- Fair Compensation as an Engagement Catalyst: Fair compensation is critical to maintaining employee engagement. As research suggests, pay and bonuses represent the top reason for moving to a new job, with health and retirement benefits increasingly playing a more significant role (employees are more willing to stay with their employer when they think their benefits meet their needs). As the first year concludes, employers should proactively offer pay raises, promotions, or opportunities for career development, especially for high-performing individuals. This proactive approach can act as a safeguard, retaining top talent and preventing their return to a former employer.
Unlocking the Boomerang Advantage
Not long ago, many companies had policies against rehiring former employees, even those who left on good terms. But in a tight labor market, experience comes at a premium, and boomerangs bring many benefits. Spurred by regret to return, they tend to bring a higher level of commitment and job satisfaction than new hires. With insider knowledge of the organization and pre-established relationships, they can seamlessly integrate into the workplace, saving the time it would typically take for new hires to build these connections over months or even years.
Given these advantages, there are a few strategies employers can use to entice former employees to return as boomerang employees:
- Goodbye for Now: Instead of parting with departing employees conventionally, organizations can focus on cultivating positive relationships with them. Boomerang employees represent a valuable and committed recruiting pool for the future. Maintaining open lines of communication and ensuring they leave on amicable terms can lay the foundation for their potential return. Additionally, alum programs play a pivotal role in sustaining connections, making it clear that they are always welcome back should they choose to return.
- Begin Reengagement Conversations at the First Anniversary: The first anniversary of a former employee’s resignation offers a natural milestone for reconnection. This moment provides an ideal opportunity to express that they are missed and make a rehire offer. To sweeten the deal, employers can include elements such as a pay raise, promotion, or even the prospect of entering a managerial role. Research underscores the one-year mark as a critical juncture when employees are most likely to consider a return. By capitalizing on this moment, organizations can enhance the appeal of a return offer.
Navigating the boomerang paradigm with MJ
The rise of boomerang employees is a testament to the ever-evolving world of talent and the complex factors influencing employee decisions. To capitalize on this trend, employers must strike a delicate balance between retaining their current workforce and actively attracting former employees, creating a harmonious work environment that embraces both the familiar and the novel.
At MJ, we’re committed to helping you stay ahead of the curve, no matter what challenges come your way. As your dedicated partner, we can help you combine compensation, benefits, paid time off, wellbeing, career development, and recognition to build a compelling employee value proposition that aligns with your workforce and organizational priorities.
Our data-driven holistic approach allows us to draw correlations, make strategic plans, and guide you on allocating your resources most effectively. Whether optimizing benefits, retirement, compensation, or developing a total rewards program, MJ can be the singular partner you need.CONTACT US TODAY
- “15+ Million Pandemic-Era U.S. Job Quitters Say They Were Better Off in Their Old Job.” UKG.com. Retrieved Oct. 2023. https://www.ukg.com/about-us/newsroom/15-million-pandemic-era-us-job-quitters-say-they-were-better-their-old-job
- Stephanie, Vozza. “Why You Should Welcome Back Boomerang Employees.” org. retrieved Oct. 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/boomerang-employees.aspx
- Ron Carucci. “To Retain New Hires, Spend More Time Onboarding Them.” hbr.org. Accessed Oct. 2023. https://hbr.org/2018/12/to-retain-new-hires-spend-more-time-onboarding-them