Boomerang employees return after quitting in 2023

by Amanda Ford on February 27, 2023

Goodbyes aren’t always permanent, especially in the business world. Employees that leave a company should always keep the door open because leaving a company on bad terms destroys the possibility of returning. 

Some employees who quit during the Great Resignation are now experiencing the Great Regret. After originally resigning, workers return to their previous employer – but this time with higher pay and better titles.

What is a boomerang employee?

Boomerang employees went from being an anomaly to the norm. While the Great Resignation resulted in many professionals resigning, there was no guarantee that their new jobs would meet their new high expectations. The opposite happened for many.  

Perhaps the company culture wasn’t what they thought it would be. Maybe the role wasn’t as advertised. Or the benefits weren’t as great, and there were fewer opportunities for career advancement. Whatever the reason, their new job wasn’t better than their old job. And while they began to miss their old employer, returning meant breaking an old stigma.  

“It used to be thought that, should an employee have the temerity to seek employment elsewhere, they would permanently be burning their bridges and with them, any chance of harmonious relations with their former employer,” notes Pavel Krapivin, CEO of Velvet Jobs 

However, there is strength in numbers. 85% of HR professionals say they’ve received job applications from former employees. Moreover, 40% of those professionals successfully hired roughly half the former talent who applied. Like a boomerang, employees who left found their way back.  

Why boomerang employees go back

Employees reapply to their old workplace for various reasons. Familiarity, fears of recession, and resignation regret are all drawing workers back. Three out of five employees were unhappy after switching jobs during the Great Resignation. Their discontent made them more grateful for the company they left. 

Professionals also found that boomeranging back to their old company helped boost career growth. They could get the high-powered job they always wanted by bypassing the steps in a typical internal career trajectory. For example, when Margo Kahnrose, CMO at Skai, boomeranged back to the company she left in 2016, she said it gave her time to reflect on the executive role she truly wanted. 

“When I returned, it was to the same company but not the same job ― rather, it was a chance to expand the impact I could have on the company in a bigger role,” Kahnrose said. “This was something I couldn’t make happen in a linear path had I stayed, because I didn’t even know at the time I left that I wanted the CMO role. It took a couple of years of looking at things outside-in to clarify for me what relationship I really wanted to have with the company I already loved and respected, and to choose to pursue it.” 

Not only does time away from a company give employees time to reflect, but also their former leadership. Employees leaving helped their previous employer realize how much they missed their value, which helped increase their negotiating leverage as they returned. 

The pros of hiring a boomerang employee

Rehiring former employees has emerged as a purposeful approach to recruiting. Let’s be honest, training a new recruit takes a considerable amount of time and money. To get around this, companies are not only rehiring former employees but actively seeking them out. Research has suggested that an average Fortune 500 company can save upwards of $12 million annually by hiring boomerang employees.  

Top advantages of rehiring boomerang employees are: 

  • Boomerang employees can get up to speed quickly 
  • The boomerang employee’s skills are already known 
  • Boomerang employees can boost morale 
  • Boomerang employees bring a new perspective 

Boomerang employees hold a golden key that opens the door to new knowledge. That and the network they bring back with them provides substantial long-term benefits to your company.  

Christina Geiser, a boomerang employee for The Adecco Group, spoke on her experience, “Going back can provide completely new insights to the company. It can bring lots of benefits and help break old patterns.” 

However, employers must know why these employees left in the first place. If the reason they left still hasn’t been dealt with, bringing them back may be a bigger risk than a reward.  

The risks of bringing back an employee who left

While the prospect of bringing back a boomerang employee is tempting, there are some pitfalls to be aware of. After all, hiring back a former employee for them to leave again puts companies back where they started.  

When considering rehiring a former employee, businesses should learn the reason they originally resigned. Can it be resolved? Or is it a red flag? For example, if they left due to not enough pay, ensure you offer them a higher salary than before. However, if they quit because of negative experiences with coworkers or management, this could be a sign that they aren’t a right cultural fit.  

Additional potential drawbacks to consider: 

  • Boomerang employees may be resistant to change 
  • Companies may be ignoring stronger candidates 
  • Boomerang employees may have unresolved issues 
  • Boomerang employees can still be a flight risk 

Sure, boomerang employees may come back around. But that doesn’t guarantee they will be an asset. When considering a boomerang employee, recruiters must not skip the correct hiring process. While boomerangs may present a packaged story that sounds good on the surface, it’s important to probe beneath the surface. What were their motives for leaving, as well as for coming back?  

When interviewing a boomerang employee, hiring managers should ask the following: 

  • What have you been doing since you left the company? 
  • How have you increased your skill set and experience? 
  • Are there any unresolved issues with the company or former coworkers? 
  • Why do you want to come back at this time? 

It’s okay to be skeptical of boomerang workers. The last thing a company wants is to become a revolving door for its former employees. 

Retain top talent before they quit

While boomerang employees are on the rise, the best-case scenario is prevention. Retaining top talent must be a company’s top priority. How can employers stop skilled employees from leaving in the first place? Because let’s face it, employee turnover is expensive and draining no matter how you cut it. Rather than figuring out how to hire workers at a low cost with minimal onboarding, resources should first go toward retaining employees. 

Boomerang employees only exist because they had a reason to originally resign. Figure out why these employees quit. With a clear understanding of why workers leave, leadership can implement the necessary changes to improve employee retention.  

Yes, if someone is meant for your company, they’ll find their way back. But isn’t it better if they never left to begin with?


Amanda Ford

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