Not that long ago in the business world, when workers left their jobs to pursue new opportunities, it usually meant they had to sever ties for good with their former employers. Resignations, even on the best of terms, were not unlike awkward breakups. And getting back together? Almost unheard of.
Today, however, more employers are taking things less personally and looking at former team members through a different lens. They see them as part of the organization’s future, rather than the past. They are embracing the idea of hiring “boomerang employees” — the people who left their organization on good terms to explore a new path, but decided later that they would like to come back.
Keeping the door open to departing staff members is a significant shift in attitude for many employers, but one that is necessary given the dynamics of today’s challenging hiring market. Consider the following data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is featured in Volume 9 of Robert Half’s report The Demand for Skilled Talent:
- More workers are quitting. According to the BLS, 2.7 million workers voluntarily left their jobs at the end of December 2014.
- Millennials tend to job hop. The BLS reports that the median tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is three years; for those ages 20 to 24, it’s just 1.3 years.
- Employers are adding more positions. At the end of 2014, the number of job openings (5 million) was the highest level of job openings since January 2001.
As more workers feel confident in the job market, employers should expect some turnover. Losing your best people is never easy, but it’s not a total loss if there’s an opportunity to eventually bring them back.
When a valued worker leaves
When a member of your team decides to move on — for another job, for retirement, for personal reasons, or for something else — and they leave on a positive note, make sure to:
- Let them know goodbye doesn’t have to be forever. Tell a departing employee you’d be happy to rehire: “I wish you well, of course. But I want you to know that if this new opportunity doesn’t work out, I’d be glad to talk to you about the possibility of your coming back to work here.”
- Offer to be a reference. Helping former employees to get ahead by attesting to their good performance is likely to leave a lasting impression on them. And even if they don’t rejoin your company someday, they may be inclined to refer other talented people they know to you.
- Stay in touch. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn make it so easy to keep in touch with former staff members. Reach out directly a few times a year by email, as well, just to check in and see how they’re doing, and to keep them in the loop on your firm’s news.
When a former employee comes back
If a boomerang employee asks to return to your workforce, don’t hesitate to contact his or her most recent employer to find out why the relationship did not work out, just as you would do with any other candidate. There may be more to the story than the professional deciding that he or she preferred being part of your organization.
Hiring a boomerang employee may require you to conduct a formal interview and onboarding process. Even if the worker has only been gone a year, a lot may have changed in your organization since that person left — new processes, policies, people and objectives may all now be in place. That person also may need training if you have recently implemented new technology.
Most important, inform other team members as soon as possible that you intend to bring a former employee back into the fold. Employees who have been loyal to your organization may resent that the business is so eager to rehire a staff member who left the company (and perhaps added more work to others’ plates, as a result). Give your team the opportunity to share any concerns, and take time to communicate how rehiring this particular employee is likely to benefit the company — and them.
While not every valued employee who leaves your organization will come back, there is a chance some will seriously consider it — especially if they know they are truly welcome. So, watch the horizon for opportunities to hire boomerang employees, and prevent skilled talent from getting away.