Nancy Anderson, R.N.
Nancy Anderson, R.N.

I was a boomerang employee. 

Boomerang employees are people who leave an organization for personal or professional reasons and then come back to their former company as a re-hire. Just to be clear, I’m specifically talking about employees who depart voluntarily, leave the organization in good standing, and then are welcomed back to the company. 

Truth be known, I actually double boomeranged, leaving and returning to the same senior care provider organization twice, ultimately investing 18 years of my career with a company I loved.  

People move on for a variety of reasons. Some employees leave for higher pay or the belief that things will be better working for a different company, only to find out that the grass is not greener in other places. Others move because of a partner’s job relocation, caring for a child or simply the desire to try something new.

Given the pandemic, some people leave because they are just plain burned out. But employee departures don’t necessarily have to mean a forever goodbye, as long as your door remains open to welcoming people back. 

In the not-so-distant past, rehiring former employees was not considered an option. It wasn’t uncommon for an employer to hold the mindset that a person who chooses to leave is a traitor and his/her departure is an act of disloyalty. But loyalty doesn’t necessarily end when employees move on. 

Perhaps their life situation changes, enabling them to return. Maybe they’ve had a chance to regain their energy and are ready to go back to performing meaningful work. Or they realize the grass isn’t greener in a new job and come back with an even deeper appreciation for your organization. 

Benefits of rehiring

It’s estimated that, on average, 15% of employees boomerang back to a former employer. There are some great benefits to hiring back former employees:

  • They are a known entity – you know their work ethic and performance capabilities.
  • They are already familiar with the organization’s culture.
  • They become productive more quickly as they often have fewer training needs.
  • When they return, it sends a signal to others that your organization is a good place to work!

Here’s another benefit: Having had new experiences and exposure to new ideas, boomerangs often come back with a fresh perspective and new skills. For example, one of my departures was due to my spouse’s work relocation. Moving from Minneapolis to Seattle, I decided to try something new. Instead of seeking employment as a nurse, I decided to enter the world of fashion retail (yes, really!). After a few years working in Nordstrom’s corporate training function, my husband and I returned to Minnesota where I was welcomed back by my previous company. I brought with me some new perspectives about customer service and expanded experience teaching employee engagement skills. 

Strategy for rehiring

If you want to include rehiring former employees as part of your recruiting effort, here are three immediate things you can do to support this strategy:

  • Establish an amicable process for offboarding employees who are exiting. Include the practice of conducting exit interviews or surveys so that you learn about the reasons employees leave and identify perceptions of workplace strengths and weaknesses. Let the departing employee know that his/her contributions were appreciated, and that the door remains open for a return.
  • Stay in touch, especially with top talent. Some organizations have an alumni program in which they intentionally communicate with former employees through newsletters, social network sites and/or a dedicated place on their website.
  • Make it easy for good employees to return. Depending on how long the employee has been gone, you may be able to streamline their onboarding process. 

Even if departing employees don’t return, if your offboarding process is done right, these employees may become ambassadors for your organization. They tell their friends and family about their positive experience working in your community and recommend it as a great place to work. Either way, it pays to not burn bridges!

About the author: Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.