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Boomerang Employees: What Do You Do When an Ex-Employee Comes Back?

June 9, 2016

boomerang-employee.jpgHave you ever had an employee leave your organization only to return down the road at some point to request their job back? Then congratulations, you’ve experienced a ‘boomerang’ employee. Like the Australian toy/weapon they were named for, a boomerang employee is one that departs for one reason or another, and then comes back at a later point attempting to get re-hired.

Returning to one’s old place of business after having left for an opportunity that didn’t work out has traditionally been viewed negatively, stigmatizing the employee who is seen as “crawling back”, hat in hand. From the organization’s point of view, entertaining the thought of re-hiring an old employee used to be borderline laughable, and in some places, it still carries some negative connotations. Those that still remain averse to the idea worry that they may be sending the message of: ‘how does it reflect on our company that we’re so desperate for good workers that we’ll even take someone who may have left on bad terms?’

The way in which boomerang employees have been traditionally dealt with was based much more on subjective factors. Those who were dismissed for performance or disciplinary reasons aside, most other ex-employees would be good re-hires on paper, as you already know they can do the job. They wouldn’t need to be trained as frequently as brand new hires, and would most likely be better at fitting in with the established culture off the bat, since they and most of the current staff already know each other.

So why were so many companies against the idea? Best case scenario, they were worried about their image as mentioned above, but worst case, it was purely for personal reasons. If an individual who was a good employee left for more money, better benefits, a promotion, etc., there was often at least some hard feelings. Seeing that same individual come crawling back for their old job created a power dynamic which allowed their old supervisor(s) to experience a great deal of personal satisfaction by turning them away, an opportunity which petty leaders would have a hard time turning down. Some organizations even had formal policies against re-hiring old employees, a trend which has begun to die out.

A national survey of HR professionals found that almost half of them stated that their company has or had a policy on the books refusing to re-hire old employees. However, over three-quarters of them responded by saying that they’re much more accepting of these types of applicants now.

This may be due to the fact that as jobs become more specialized, finding applicants well suited to these niche roles is becoming more difficult, or it could simply be a side effect of the fact that professionals are changing jobs more often, in general – something that has become more common among Millennials. Either way, companies that are still stubbornly refusing to consider boomerang employees are only shooting themselves in the foot. Making important personnel decisions based on nothing more than personal feelings is never a good idea, and could mean that you miss out on having the best applicant for the job at hand.

If you ever find yourself dealing with a boomerang employee, the key is keep to emotion out of the decision. Put them through the hiring process as you would any candidate, and give them a fair shot at returning to their old job. This ensures that you’re considering the best possible applicants, and could end up resulting in bringing a new hire on board who already knows the fine details of the job and can perform them well.

The Ultimate Hiring Manager’s Guide

Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg was an I/O Psychologist with PSI living and working in Chicago, IL.