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Boomerang employees: should you target them?

Explore the benefits of hiring boomerang employees and how they can enhance your company's growth. Learn why nearly half of former employees are open to returning, and read what Suzanne Lucas has to say about it.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

boomerang employees

You can take advantage of Boomerang employees even if you don’t live in Australia. 

Not the ones for throwing, but employees who leave and then come back. With average tenure at jobs remaining fairly steady at around four years, people can go through quite a few companies in their professional careers. So it makes a bit of sense that people may want to come back.

Is it a good idea to hire boomerangs? It can be! It can also be a disaster. Here’s what you need to know.

Boomeranging is more common than you may think

A Harvard Business Review study looked at 3 million employee records from 2019 to 2022 and found that “28% of “new hires” were actually boomerang hires who had resigned within the last 36 months.”

Of course, this is an unusual period, as many people lost their jobs in 2020, and the same companies that laid off en masse were hiring rapidly in 2022. However, it demonstrates that companies are interested in rehiring people.

They also found that boomerang workers tend to come back around the one-year mark–but again, take that with a grain of salt, as that was also when companies that laid off due to the pandemic were hiring again.

But it’s also enough time for someone who left voluntarily to decide, hey, you know what? The grass isn’t greener elsewhere. And that was precisely what the researchers found–the new company didn’t fulfill its promises.

What about boomerangs today?

Robert Half published a survey in May 2024 that found 48 percent of people would consider going back to a previous company–that’s up 8 percent from 2023. So your employees who left don’t hate you! Well, at least not all of them do. 

They don’t all want to return to the same job–they want to return to a promotion. This follows the advice and the data–the easiest way to get a good salary increase is to change jobs.

So, employees hop to a new job for an increase and want to maintain or increase that to come back. Their latest job would have to be particularly awful to come back for less money.

Benefits of boomerangs

The number one benefit of a boomerang worker is they have a better idea of what they are getting into. And you have a better idea of who you are hiring.

You don’t need to worry about work ethic or cultural fit or even if this person brings terrible potato salad to the company potluck and badgers people about trying it.

You already know your boomerang, and your boomerang knows you.

No amount of interviewing can tell you how a person will be as an employee, so this is a huge advantage when considering a boomerang worker. If you reject one, you can do so with confidence that you have made the right decision.

But that’s not the only benefit of a boomerang employee. Consider the following:

  • Faster ramp-up time. Of course, they will need refreshers, but they already know the products, systems, software, and bureaucratic processes. 
  • They’ve gained knowledge that, perhaps, your company couldn’t teach them.
  • They want to work for you. Sure, some people will still take jobs because they have no other options, but a boomerang knows what they are getting into and chooses to do it anyway.

The benefits to the employee are also solid. For instance:

  • They have a shorter ramp-up time. While this is generally seen as a benefit to the company, it also makes for a far less stressful onboarding process for the employee.
  • They are eligible for FMLA earlier. Suppose your company has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. In that case, your boomerang employee can become eligible for protected leave when they reach 1250 hours–if they have already worked for you for 12 months. This can be a huge benefit to employees.
  • They know what they are getting into. Nobody is honest in interviews–candidates lie about their skills and experience, and managers lie about work-life balance and growth opportunities. Everyone knows the truth with a boomerang.

But none of this means that a boomerang is the right hire.

When you should be cautious about boomerang candidates

Why did the person leave in the first place? Has that problem been fixed? If you laid the candidate off, then it’s not as concerning as if they left voluntarily. A voluntary termination generally means the company did not meet some need. 

Some of these needs are easily fixed or were fixed by leaving. For instance, if someone left because of a lack of growth opportunities and is now returning to a higher role, the problem is solved. But if the person left because of personal conflicts, have the other people left?

If the candidate was a lousy employee the first time around, there’s a strong possibility that the person will be a lousy employee the second time around. Some companies feel desperate for employees and agree to take someone back when they shouldn’t.

Sure, people change and grow, but unless it’s been 5-10 years with solid evidence of growth as a person, pass on the bad boomerang.

Should you target former employees?

Absolutely! Some companies even have alumni groups and keep in contact with former employees. And, honestly, if Wegmans ever reached out to me (my first professional job, way back in the 1900s), I’d strongly consider it–if just for better access to chocolate muffins. 

Your best former employees can be your best future employees. It’s worth considering when you’re struggling to hire. And if the Robert Half numbers are correct, your former employees may well want to return.

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