Employee Retention: Should You Hire Boomerangs?


When considering employee retention, we often view turnover as failure – but that’s not always the case.  Employees often quit but still have connections to your organization and brand.  In fact, nearly half of Millennials (the largest generation in the workforce), are willing to work for a former employer.  Frequently, high potential employees leave because of life events and changes that have nothing to do with their potential to return as strong performers.  Hiring boomerang applicants – people who previously worked for your organization – markedly reduces recruiting and training costs. The cost-per-hire of boomerangs is usually one-to-two thirds the cost of a new employee.

Although 15 percent of the workforce reports returning to work for a former employer, it’s natural to view hiring boomerangs with caution.  They left before; and how do you choose between an applicant with some track record of success at your organization and other qualified applicants?  What’s more, if your organization has multiple locations, or even with the passage of time, you may not have the whole story about why an employee left and their record of performance.  Indeed, until recently, many companies had formal policies banning the rehire of former employees.  Recent surveys of HR professionals, however, find the majority of these policies were reversed – and the stigma against boomerang applicants is quickly diminishing.

A look at the reasons and dynamics behind people leaving jobs may help us understand why it’s valuable to give boomerang applicants full consideration.

Shocking Events

Think about the last few jobs you left.  What precipitated your decision to leave?  When people share the reasoning and story behind leaving a job, it most often started with a jarring event that changed how they viewed their career and employer.  Researchers call these events “shocks” because they are quick and dramatically shift a person’s intentions to stay.  Shocking events can be personal or job related -birth of a child, returning to school, graduating, spousal relocation, or a job offer – and can lead employees to reconsider employment.

Other shocks communicate information that affects how an employee views him or herself and the organization.  For example, a new manager may behave in ways that do not align with the organizational culture, leading employees who strongly identify with the culture to reconsider their intentions to stay.  Changes in job duties, being denied promotions, or shifts in how the organization is perceived by the industry or public, may result in gaps between an employee’s sense of self, goals, and identity, and how they are perceived by others. The point is – shocks happen quickly and are often irrelevant to performance, making boomerang applicants worth consideration.

The Grass Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side

In our competitive labor market, boomerang applicants present a valuable opportunity to hire applicants that not only already have job knowledge and skills, but strong potential to be top performers.  Further, management and HR professionals report boomerang hires having greater knowledge of the company’s culture.  Work experience and education during their time away frequently accelerate abilities and provide a greater appreciation of your organization’s unique culture and work environment – in other words, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Next Steps

One thing we can learn from boomerang hires is that they typically thrive because they understand your culture and have the right characteristics to be successful.  Using this information, you can incorporate hiring tools, such as pre-employment assessments and structured interviews, into your selection process to identify quality candidates.  New to assessments?  Check out our free eBook: Hiring Assessments – The What, Why, and When to learn all about them!

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Welcome Back: Boomerang Employees Are On The Rise.  Forbes.  September, 2015.
Employee Tenure Summary.  Bureau of Labor Statistics.  September, 2016.
Employees on the rebound: Toward a framework for boomerang employee performance.  Academy of Management Proceedings.  2015.
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