Neil Johnson, ACCA Careers editor

The idea of rehiring someone who left an organisation for greener pastures or, if you’re the employee, the idea of going backwards, are not usually favourable predicaments for either party. But perhaps the concept of so-called ‘boomerang’ employees needs to be reframed in light of Covid-19 and the Great Resignation, which has left the job market in many parts of the world topsy-turvy and employers fighting hard to secure top finance talent.

Indeed, boomerangs offer a neat remedy, one that some employers have already picked up on. According to LinkedIn, in 2021 4.5% of all new recruits on the platform were boomerang workers, compared with 3.9% in 2019.


Don’t assume a former employee wants to return because they had a bad time elsewhere

Why return?

Firstly, why might employees have left? Boomerangs may have quit recently or a decade ago. They may have left because they weren’t happy, they were seeking more responsibility or better remuneration, they needed a career change, to look after a family member, they wanted to take a sabbatical – the list goes on.

Don’t assume a former employee wants to return because they had a bad time elsewhere. It might be that the organisation has improved in the areas in which they weren’t happy first time round – for example, there may have been changes in organisational culture, flexible working, diversity and inclusiveness, and of course remuneration.

Forty-three percent of people who quit jobs during the pandemic later believed that they should not have left

Also worth noting is research by HR solutions provider UKG, which found that 43% of people who quit jobs during the pandemic later believed that they should not have left.

Alumni, not ex-employees

Consider an attitude shift when thinking about ex-employees. Instead of watching them disappear in the rear-view mirror, value them as alumni, as part of an organisation’s network and history.

This is a strategy LinkedIn actively uses in its own recruitment practice. In 2021 the platform doubled the number of new recruits from its alumni network by extending referral bonuses and deliberately targeting job ads at this group.

Getting this to work effectively, however, depends on many factors, ranging from the employee’s previous experiences with the employer, the work culture, reasons for leaving and how they were supported on their way out of the organisation.

Unlocking potential

Take university alumni as an example. People who had a good experience on their course, followed by a good career on the back of it, are more likely to be proud and active members of the alumni community, willing to endorse the university to their networks, come back for further study or to engage with current students.

Ultimately, if you’re an organisation with a good culture, a valued and well-treated workforce, that provides career opportunities and challenges, then firstly you’ll retain talent but, secondly, should talent leave they’ll hopefully do so on good terms, making a return an attractive prospect for both parties.

Returners also know the organisation well, especially those who left more recently. This means that onboarding will be simpler. Returners will know and fit into the company culture; they may bring new skills, experiences and connections (including customers, suppliers and talent), and you might retain them more easily this time round.

If you’re an organisation with a good culture, should talent leave they’ll hopefully do so on good terms

A word of warning

The potential for bringing bad blood and disharmony to the office is the main downside. If the employee left on a bad note, or colleagues aren’t happy about their return, there are factors that can make it awkward for everyone and that need to be carefully managed.

Just because the returner knows the company and a role, or they performed well previously, doesn’t mean that they’re the best fit now. Processes, teams, management and culture may have changed, and they may find themselves out of step.

The boomerang might also see the move as a back step in their career. They might be returning because experiences elsewhere didn’t meet expectations, but that doesn’t mean the decision to return is a homecoming; they might simply feel there’s no other choice.

Warm welcome

Make boomerangs feel welcome and prioritise communication. Returners may come with demands and suggestions, so listen to them; they may ultimately benefit the organisation.

Settling in might be tough for them and their immediate colleagues, especially if they’re rejoining the same team. This requires support and an open ear for the returner and their colleagues to ease the landing. Equally, be cognisant of the message that rehiring people might send to current staff around how loyalty and disloyalty are viewed and rewarded by management.