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Can Boomerang Employees Mitigate the Great Resignation?

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​In 2022, we have found ourselves in a unique position. There’s a record high of 1.3 million vacancies in the UK. Meanwhile, unemployment rates fell to 3.9% - higher than pre-pandemic levels. Attracting and retaining the right people for your business has never been tougher.

Naturally, many businesses have responded by throwing money at the issue. According to ONS data, salaries are estimated to have risen by4.8% in 2021. Add to that the unexpected (and often untracked) hidden costs of attrition to your business, and hiring can quickly become a crippling expense.

Hiring Managers and recruitment teams across the globe are scrambling to come up with innovative and cost-effective solutions. Enter, the boomerang employee.

What is a Boomerang Employee?

Put simply, a boomerang employee is someone you re-hire. They’ve worked for you before, went elsewhere for a while, and have come to take their old job back.

According to LinkedIn, boomerangs accounted for 4.3% of all movers last year. And they’re coming back faster than ever; with an average time of just 17 months elapsed before they return to their previous employer. For comparison, back in 2010 those figures were just 2% and a whopping 21 months.

It appears the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Anthony Klotz, the professor who first coined the phrase ‘The Great Resignation’ gives this example:

“Right now, there’s a lot of employees quitting their jobs because they want to explore other areas of their life, other professions, whatever it may be, who knows how they'll feel in two years. Let's say you quit your employer because you didn't want to go back into the office, but then the Delta variant ruins your plans. Lo and behold, you find out three months later, they've switched to a hybrid situation. And you're like, ‘Well, if you guys were hybrid, I would have never quit’.”

Should I re-hire Boomerang Employees?

What boomerangs can bring beyond other candidates is the ability to hit the ground running. Even if they are returning to your organisation in a different position, they are likely already familiar with your culture and modus operandi. This should mean smoother onboarding, minimal training and they’ll quickly become fully productive in their role. There might be some bad habits to iron out, but compared to a new employee, their induction should be a breeze.

That doesn’t mean you can neglect their onboarding though. The cardinal sin of many employers is taking their current team for granted whilst pursuing the hottest new thing on the market… leading to worse attrition rates. Don’t let that be you! Treat it as an opportunity to get them bought back into your culture and shout about your successes while they’ve been away. You want them to be excited about working for you again.

Boomerang employees also have the benefit of a fresh perspective. They can provide insight into the strengths and, more importantly, the weaknesses of your business. Don’t let this opportunity for growth and improvement pass you by. They may have learned some insightful nuggets of best practice they can bring to the team. Or perhaps, with a new viewpoint, they are able to spot development opportunities you have missed.

One final point; giving someone their job back in this current climate not only demonstrates a good culture, but sends a message to your current team that there is nothing better out there. Could boomerang employees help reduce your attrition rate? We’re not sure, but it could certainly create doubt for others who are considering leaving.

Should I be wary of Boomerang Employees?

First of all, they left for a reason. In the past, many HR teams had a strict no re-hire policy. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. But recent shifts in attitude have seen these policies waiver. Before you considering bringing them back into the fold you need to understand why.

Most boomerangs remain a flight risk. Why are they moving on again so quickly? This could be a myriad of things – anything from a toxic culture to poor personal performance – so be sure to do your due diligence before re-hiring. It’s important to remember that any issue, no matter how small, can fester and get blown out of proportion. You must get under the skin of their reasons for leaving, as well as their reasons for returning.

We suspect that over the next few years we’ll see a large number of people ‘double bounce’, and leave quickly when they realise the reason they left hasn’t gone away.

Managing expectations of boomerang employees is essential to their integration into their new team, particularly if there has been significant change while they’ve been away. They may have previous relationships in the business to guide them, but there are bound to be new people too. Setting the scene from the off should stop any tensions created by a ‘We used to do it like this’ attitude.

Finally, whilst this might seem a little doomsday of us, it’s vital to keep in mind that someone may be returning to your business to gain information for a competitor. Though there are many advantages to re-hiring ex-employees, there are reasons to be cautious too.

Tread carefully. Be thorough. Trust your instincts.

Some good interview questions for returning employees:

·        What have you been up to since you left?

·        Why are you looking to leave your current employer?

·        Why do you want to come back here?

·        How long do you plan to stay with us?

How can I encourage Boomerang Employees?

So, you’ve decided you’d like to bring back some ex-employees. Where do you start? The most obvious answer is reach out to them. Ask how things are going in their current role and make it clear that they are welcome back if things haven’t worked out as they planned. Why not meet up for a coffee and share how much you valued their work, and how you’d love to have them back in your team. There’s a difference between letting someone know they are appreciated and flattering them to get your own way, but it’s an easy first step to make. And remember; you never know when your paths will cross in the future, so this is good practice for anyone you would like to work with again… even if you aren’t looking to re-hire them right now.

If they have moved away, or have never been local, the easiest way to maintain contact is via social media. This is can be more subtle (engaging with their posts), or more overt (sliding into their DMs). However you choose to approach them, treat social media as an extension of in-person networking and you’re on to a winner. It helps to build trust; demonstrating transparency and openness in your organisation.

Some businesses create an Alumni community group, inviting all leavers to join a network of their peers. These communities can bring many opportunities, such as referrals, business development and industry insights but they can be tapped in to whenever you are struggling to hire. They only work for larger businesses, but take minimal effort to create and maintain.

Why not send a newsletter to ex-employees? Email is one of the easiest ways to keep in contact with your network. Plus, unless they left on bad terms, they’re already engaged in your brand and will be interested to see what’s happening in their old stomping ground. Human beings are curious by nature, so why not capitalise on it. You could send a monthly newsletter that celebrates the successes of your business, such as key milestones, significant new hires or vacancies, and even new product launches.

If you’re looking for a more subtle approach, something as simple as writing a great reference when they leave has a lasting impression. Employee recognition goes a long way, and appreciating their input even as they seek new pastures will encourage them to consider coming back in the future. What if you aren’t their referee? Leave them a recommendation on LinkedIn to help boost their online profile.

If you have a tricky role to fill and need some advice, pick up the phone and give us a call. Our recruitment consultants will be happy to help!

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