“Boomerang employees”: No longer such a rarity in the corporate world.

Time was, once a person left a company – for whatever reason – the likelihood that they’d ever come back to work there was pretty slim.

Perhaps to be re-engaged as a consultant or a contract worker … but as a return employee? Not likely at all.

That mindset appears to be changing.  Data accumulated from a recent survey by HR research and advisory firm Workplace Trends from ~1,800 human resources executives, managers of staff, and employees provide the following clues:

  • Half of the HR professionals responding to the survey claimed that their organization once had formal policies against rehiring former employees (even if the employee had departed in good standing).
  • Three-fourths of the HR respondents reported that they are more accepting of hiring boomerang employees today. More than half of the respondents who are people managers felt the same way.

The actual incidence of returning to work at a former company isn’t all that common.  Of the employees who took part in the survey, fewer than 15% of them fell into this category.

Still, 15% is way up from where it has been traditionally — and the current percentage is higher than I would have guessed.

What’s more, nearly 40% of employee respondents reported that they would consider going back to an employer where they had once worked.

There are distinct differences in employee attitudes based on age demographics: More than 45% of Millennials would consider returning to work for a former employer … but the percentage is just 29% for Baby Boomer respondents.

As for why boomerang employees are becoming more common, a number of factors are at play:

  • Intense competition for certain technically advanced employees who may be in short supply makes poaching more common … and also intensifies the need for companies to respond in kind. In fields were strong talent is hard to come by, often the pool of workers is too small to summarily omit former employees from consideration.
  • Familiarity with a company’s organization, culture and ways of doing business reduces “ramp-up” requirements and the amount of training needed, when compared to bringing on a brand-new employee.
  • The “devil you know” factor: Even if a former employee possesses a few characteristics that are less-than-ideal, at least these are known quantities, as compared to a brand-new employee who may or may not be all that she or he seems to be on paper.

chairGoing forward, I suspect that boomerang employees will become even more prevalent than they are today.

To do well at that, companies might wish to look into maintaining open lines of communication with select former employees. It seems like a good way to keep choice workers “in the loop” and potentially available — and interactive/social media makes it easier to keep those channels open.

As things stands now, the results of this survey suggest that such channels are, at best, ad hoc rather than being part of a formal “alumni” communications strategy.

Addressing this point, Dan Schawbel, head of WorkplaceTrends, had this to say:

“In previous research we’ve done, we’ve found that Millennials are switching jobs every two years because they are searching for the job – and organization – of best fit. But this new study indicates that this younger generation is more likely to boomerang back when they’ve experienced other company cultures and realized what they’ve missed.”

Schawbel’s prediction? “We’ll see the boomerang employee trend continue in the future as more employees adopt a ‘free agent’ mentality – and more organizations create a stronger alumni ecosystem.”

What about you? Are you a boomerang employee? Or do you know colleagues who have done this? What are the pluses and minuses? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

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