This article first appeared in StrategicCHRO360 on September 30, 2022.
The Great Resignation has led to an exodus of talent, but some former employees are finding the pastures aren’t as green as they expected on the other side. Welcome them back.
In today’s corporate world, a new trend is disrupting the workplace landscape, changing how employees evaluate and interact with their employers: boomerang employees. As purpose and healthy work-life boundaries become increasingly top-of-mind in the new normal, an evolving war for talent has emerged causing many to “boomerang” from their employer—meaning that they leave in search of other opportunities or perhaps better working conditions, only to return to the same company down the line.
Against the backdrop of the Great Resignation, boomerang employees make up a surprising 4.5% of all new hires on LinkedIn, an increase from 3.9% in 2019. Perhaps it was the familiarity of returning to a previous employer that drove their decision-making—or that grass wasn’t actually greener on the other side; regardless, the boomerang employee poses a significant opportunity for companies to rethink their talent value propositions and approach talent attraction and retention in a whole new way.
And for those who think the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, or that boomerang employees will jump to the next job as soon as they’re re-hired, think again. Research shows boomerang employees are often more committed and more satisfied in their roles than new hires. They also have insider knowledge of the organization and relationships that can take other new hires months or years to develop. This is especially important as employee
burnout and “quiet quitting” become more pervasive. For employers looking to better understand and support boomerang employees, here are a few considerations:
People Come Back to People
Consider, for a moment, your last “good leaver”—the employee who broke your heart a little when they put in their two-weeks’ notice. While they may be leaving your company for now, it doesn’t mean they have to be gone from your organization for good. There is a real opportunity for employers to bring back proven workers through the right outreach, and for companies looking to make the most out of the boomerang trend, understanding the connective tissue between people who’ve left and those who’ve stayed can help.
Don’t Look Too Far from Your Own Backyard
While it can be tempting to focus your efforts on recruitment outside of your organization, investing in your current employees and keeping them feeling happy and healthy is, at the end of the day, what’s most important. Recognizing the factors that are important to these workers, and shaping the employee experience to meet their needs, will provide the baseline for them to naturally evolve into your organization’s “cheerleaders”—those who serve as ambassadors for your company and share their positive experiences with their friends, family and most importantly, their network. This includes creating opportunities for internal mobility, which research shows can help retain employees nearly twice as long.
If You Love Them, Let Them Go
You can’t stop an employee from leaving your company if it isn’t the right fit for them, but you can set them up with your company’s alumni network to help them cultivate a strong career path—one that may just lead back to your company in the end. By creating a space that helps keep former and current employees connected, past employees can stay up to date with your company’s news, search for job opportunities, participate in group discussions and more. At the end of the day, we all want our employees to succeed, and while an employee may not stay at your company, employers should invest in an alumni network that allows their former employees to stay connected throughout their careers. They may just become an important customer later on.
Make no mistake: boomerang employees aren’t a fading trend, but that isn’t a bad thing. Having someone leave your organization and come back is a compliment—and has more positive things to say about your company than negative. By leaning into this reality, and adapting your organizational structures accordingly, you can better ensure you’re maintaining a happy and healthy workplace culture that encourages employees to grow with you—in whatever capacity that implies.