What Are Boomerang Employees?

A career path isn’t necessarily a straight line.

Written by Sunny Betz
What Are Boomerang Employees?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Sep 19, 2023

Most career paths don’t follow a straight line. If they did, we would all be ballerinas, firefighters and astronauts, just like we said in kindergarten. It’s normal to waver back and forth between roles and even industries. Wherever your career takes you is OK — even if you wind up back where you started. 

That’s what boomerang employees do: they are people who return to a company or team they previously left.

What Are Boomerang Employees?

A boomerang employee is one who returns to a company they previously left, either because other opportunities weren’t a good fit, they miss the company’s culture or they’re excited about the company’s new direction.

Boomerang hires do pose some risks for companies, but giving them consideration can help leaders save money, conserve time and compete in a narrowing talent pool.

“​​I encourage companies to be open-minded about welcoming talent back,” Daniel Phelps, VP of talent acquisition at AI company Genesys, said. “How someone leaves, and the sentiment they retain of their previous employers, impacts future success for everyone and developmental opportunities abound.”

Below we cover the positives and negatives of hiring boomerang employees, as well as how leaders can set them up for success.

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Hiring Managers Should Be Open to Boomerang Employees

Generally, boomerang employees are relatively rare. Out of all new hires, they are only 4.5 percent. But that doesn’t mean the phenomenon should be ignored. In fact, boomerang employees are poised to become a lot more common.

“In the last few years, we have seen a growing trend for employees to return to previous employers,” Phelps said. “The Great Resignation also sparked the Great Regret — we’ve seen employees resign and then retract that resignation or leave, only to return a few months later.”

Boomerang employees may want to return to previous companies if the opportunity they went after didn’t pan out or they miss the security of a familiar environment. New leadership or changing market conditions could mean different business priorities and growth opportunities that make their previous company more attractive.

“There are a myriad of reasons why an ex-employee may want to return to a previous company,” said Tim Rowley, COO and CTO of recruiting software company PeopleCaddie. “The ex-employee may have been experiencing a temporary personal situation that made it necessary for them to leave the workforce for an indefinite period, and they may like to return after the situation has been resolved.”

Every circumstance is different. But typically, it’s in the company’s best interest to be open to boomerang employees, according to Tyler Pearl, head of talent acquisition at engineering company MORSE Corp.

“If those relationships stay intact, you can bring people in that are ultimately proven assets, and can hit the ground running,” Pearl said.

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Benefits of Boomerang Employees

Boomerang employees offer many advantages, especially when it comes to recruiting strategies and the onboarding process. 

 

1. Quicker Onboarding

Onboarding brand-new employees is time-consuming and costly. It can take a new employee nearly 12 months to reach their full performance potential in their new role. What’s more, the cost of onboarding each new hire is around $4,700, according to a study from SHRM. 

Since boomerang employees may already have a strong grasp of a company’s mission and their new role, recruiters can spend less time teaching them about the company’s history and managers may find these employees can easily relearn the tools and techniques needed for their roles.  

 

2. Cost-Efficient Recruiting 

Hiring a boomerang employee can cut back on expenses. Returning employees already know the ropes and will be able to jump into the mix a lot faster. Rehiring previous employees can also save leaders between 33 and 67 percent of their recruitment budget, according to research from Success Factors. On top of that, they’ll already know the company culture.

 

3. Improved Employee Loyalty

Rehiring former employees shows that the company doesn’t hold hard feelings against employees who choose to leave for other opportunities. Boomerang employees may then feel more motivated to make an immediate impact and return the favor to their employers who have entrusted them with responsibilities once again. 

Other employees may also see the rehiring of former employees as a sign that their company is an attractive workplace and feel reassured. This perception can boost employee morale, which in turn can increase employee loyalty.

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Drawbacks of Boomerang Employees

While hiring boomerang employees may seem like an easy decision, there are potential risks and downsides that come with rehiring old teammates. 

 

1. Lack of Innovation 

Bringing in new talent can use up more of the budget, but Rowley said their “fresh, new ideas and a different perspective,” can give them an edge. This is especially the case if a boomerang employee already understands the responsibilities of their role and thinks they can take the same approach they did during their previous stint with the company. 

There are benefits to being unfamiliar with a company’s culture and preferred methods for completing tasks. Brand-new employees may introduce strategies and techniques that further enrich an organization’s workflows while boomerang employees may simply readjust to a company’s culture without questioning everyday processes.  

 

2. Questionable Motivation 

The success of a boomerang hire all depends on the circumstances of their departure. For example, if an employee only wants to return because they were laid off from a previous role, but don’t express real interest or excitement about the company, they could just be returning out of desperation and wind up leaving as soon as the next opportunity arises. Avoiding situations like this, Phelps said, comes down to one thing: communication.

“Unless a person left due to something that hasn’t been resolved, there typically aren’t any drawbacks to boomerangs,” he said. “The good news is that this can be avoided by having good conversations during the rehire interviews to delve into their motivations.”

 

3. Workplace Tensions 

Rehiring a former employee to a coveted position could rub other employees the wrong way. Those who have remained with the company may feel spurned by leaders and feel like their loyalty and hard work have been taken for granted. These feelings may only heighten if a boomerang employee returns to receive greater pay and a top-ranking position. 

Organizations may want to develop policies that determine when boomerang employees can retain their previous role and pay, when they lose their previous status and when they are allowed to earn a higher role and compensation. If this isn’t clear, hiring boomerang employees can lead to misunderstandings and ill will among long-time employees. 

 

How to Onboard Boomerang Employees

That being said, boomerang employees have much to offer, and an effective onboarding process can enable them to make a more immediate impact. Here are a few concrete actions companies can take to help boomerang employees transition back into their old work environments. 

 

1. Analyze the Employee’s History

Managers can revisit data on an employee’s previous role and past performance to see what areas they excel in and what skills or tools they need to work on. Based on this analysis, leaders can tailor the onboarding process and the position itself to fit the background and experience of the employee.

Leaders may also want to review feedback from meetings like exit interviews to see if the employee had any complaints or felt like their role could be improved. Companies that listen to the advice of employees who leave can make much-needed changes to processes and create an environment former employees will want to come back to. 

“The key to this is always fostering a culture of respect,” Phelps said. “If you can do this, you will build a stronger culture, empower growth mindsets and development, and create brand ambassadors.”​

 

2. Shorten Onboarding if the Employee Has Been Gone for a Brief Period 

The onboarding process depends on how long the boomerang employee has been gone. If someone returns after only a few months, for example, recruiters may want to remove learning sessions about the company’s history, since the employee is already familiar. But if someone has been gone for years, it may be helpful to have them undergo a full onboarding process, since much may have changed after they left.  

 

3. Have the Employee Review New Processes

If they haven’t done this already, organizations may want to create a comprehensive company handbook that gets updated with every change. This can contain information on different departments, employee benefits and the company mission. Boomerang employees who have been gone for a while then have a single source they can rely on to answer basic questions about updates to the company’s culture and processes. 

“It’s important to be transparent about what’s different and how the company vision might be evolving,” said Pearl. “That way, the returning employee can make that decision as to their path forward.”

 

4. Create a Role-Specific Development Plan

Managers can also make a boomerang employee’s adjustment period smoother by designing a development plan tailored to their position. The plan can provide a description of the role, what skills and tools the employee needs to master, courses or training sessions required and a timeline for when an employee should achieve certain goals. This way, the expectations are clear from the get-go and the employee knows how to prepare for their new role. 

 

5. Regularly Meet With the Employee

Even if a returning employee still knows their manager and other coworkers well, leaders can’t assume that they’ll figure everything out on their own. Schedule a one-on-one at the beginning of their onboarding to welcome the employee back and maintain consistent meetings afterward to answer questions, address concerns and see how they’re doing. This makes boomerang employees feel valued and allows them to reconnect with company personnel much faster.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

An example of a boomerang employee is an employee choosing to leave their employer for another company, only to return six months later to retain their old title and compensation since they were dissatisfied with the other organization.

No. Every professional follows a unique career path, and this path isn’t always linear. Returning to a former employer can provide the stability and growth opportunities that a professional can’t find anywhere else.

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