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Boomerang Employees: How to Make the Right Call About Rehiring

boomerang employeesFor decades, most companies have levied an arbitrary “no rehire” rule. They’ve assumed that if an employee has left the company or was fired, there’s always bad mojo in bringing them back. With many older executives I speak to about this, it’s an automatic response: “Once you’re out, you’re out,” they say.

I’ve had a different experience throughout my career. There have been several instances where it’s been a fantastic move to bring someone back (aka the "boomerang employee").

But I’ve also learned that there are definitely instances when it’s just not a good idea.

Why Would You Want Boomerang Employees?

The most obvious advantage is speeding up the hiring process, cutting it down from months to just a couple weeks – or even days, in some cases.

Think about what it costs to hire a new employee. You spend hours sifting through resumes, trying to find the right fit for the job, and then you spend even more time taking candidates through the interview process.

Culture fit and job fit are even more difficult to determine. It can be less time-consuming – and less risky – to rehire someone you already know has a good work ethic and the necessary skills, and fits into your company culture.

Time to productivity can also be significantly reduced. It can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months to get a new employee up to speed.

Former employees already know the company and what’s expected of them. You'll spend less time formally training on the code base, the product, or the sales process, and they may have friends in the company already.

They’ll be able to start making valuable contributions much sooner vs. recruiting, hiring and onboarding a totally new employee.

Rehiring employees who left the company is becoming more prevalent than it used to be: 76% of HR professionals say they’re now more accepting of hiring boomerang employees than they were in the past, according to The Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employee Study.

Employees are also pretty open to the possibility these days. The same study found that 40% would consider boomeranging back to one of their former employers. Broken down by age groups, millennials were the most likely to consider giving a previous employer another shot (46%).

What to Consider Before Rehiring

employee-leaving.jpgIn a perfect world, you’d win every deal, your sports team would win every game, and you’d only hire A players who are perfect culture fits.

But it’s not a perfect world. Just ask Stephen Curry.

Some great employees are going to quit, and you’ll have to let go others who aren’t quite making the cut. However, before you start getting the whole band back together, think about the circumstances under which the employee left the company.

If someone was fired, usually the company won’t want that person back. Rehiring employees in this category is a non-starter for me.

If someone quit, there are a few different reasons they might have done so:

  1. They didn't like the work environment, the work itself or their coworkers.
  2. They didn't identify with the culture or values. For an example, see Tony Hsieh's famous example of offering employees $2,000 to quit after their initial onboarding. If they weren't a natural fit for the company, they would take the $2,000. If they didn't, they believed in the culture and really wanted to be there.
  3. They were lured away by greener pastures elsewhere, usually related to money, equity or a better title.
  4. There was some external reason that had nothing to do with the company, usually personal or family-related.

Let's consider each of these scenarios when an employee is looking to return.

Bringing back an employee in category 4 is almost always good. They're thankful for the willingness to be flexible, and are usually welcomed back with open arms by their coworkers.

Category 3 former employees are usually less experienced employees who were lured away by supposedly greener pastures. If they really are greener, they wouldn't think about returning. But usually they aren’t greener, and the employee might have a humbling road back. However, if they make the transition, they can be absolute rockstars and incredible advocates. I’ve seen this happen recently.

Categories 2 and 1 are usually more problematic.

If an employee is really not a fit for your company, and you didn't lose any sleep over the fact that they left, that's telling you something. It could tell you one of two things: either your culture or work environment is broken and there's some self-reflection that needs to happen, or the employee's own culture or attitude is broken.

Either way, something needs to dramatically change before there's a fit going forward. And change is hard, it takes real dedication.

Most likely these are the rehires who are going to leave again within one year. They won't be productive or loyal, and they're probably just using their employment at your company like a rebound relationship: It's a comfortable place to be while you're looking for your next one. These are the cases where it's a bad idea to rehire.

If you’re considering rehiring someone, have several conversations with your team and with the candidate to determine which of the above situations is the most likely scenario, then decide whether to extend an offer or not.

Setting Them Up (Again) for Success

If you do decide to rehire a former employee, here are some suggestions for making their return as smooth as possible.

Make sure they know what’s changed.

You’ve probably made any number of changes since the former employee left. Be sure they understand the new technology or processes you’re using to improve workplace productivity. If it’s been a while, plenty of things may have changed and you don’t want old habits to overpower new ones.

Approach hiring them like you would with a new employee. Bring them up to speed on their day-to-day tasks, what tools are available, who they’ll be reporting to, how they’ll be evaluated, etc.

While a boomerang employee may be familiar with you – and you with them – effective communication and training is still needed to ensure they successfully adapt to how your company works now.

Consider their point of view.

Keep in mind that the person you’re rehiring may be nervous. They might be concerned about what sort of welcome they’ll receive when they come back.

So make sure that current employees know they’re returning, and emphasize the value that the boomerang employee brings to the team. You’ll want to make sure to reset expectations clearly with both the rehire and the existing team. In other words, don't create the expectation that if you leave, you’ll always be welcomed back – through a revolving door.

If you do it right, you can develop incredibly loyal advocates who bring good mojo to the organization. If you do it wrong, you might undermine much of what you’ve tried hard to build, and end up with a mess.

Shaun Ritchie (@shaunjritchie on Twitter) is co-founder and CEO of EventBoard.

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