Boomerang Employees and Why You Should (not) Hire Them


In today’s tough job market, companies struggling to fill open roles are considering boomerang employees who left during the pandemic. If you can recall, the Great Resignation saw almost 43 million employees quit their jobs in 2021, an annual high, as reported by CNBC.

The trend is rising, with 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in January 2022, just shy of the new monthly record set in November. Not long ago, according to statistics by SHRM nearly half of HR professionals had a policy against rehiring former employees, even if they left on good terms. Not anymore.

According to Forbes, hiring managers are now more open to rehiring employees than in the past. Why is this happening and should you welcome back former employees?

What Is a Boomerang Employee?

Boomerang workers are people who work for an organization, quit, and then get rehired. Workers cite various reasons for quitting:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic remains the top contributor to this phenomenon in the last two years.
  • Better or higher-paying job opportunities
  • Career development pursuits
  • Life changes like relocation
  • Position was eliminated
  • Retirement

In some cases, employees simply took the time off to deal with the many issues the pandemic bestowed upon us. According to LinkedIn, boomerang employees accounted for 4.5 percent of all new hires in 2021 compared with 3.9 percent in 2019.

The recruiting landscape shifted dramatically not only due to the pandemic but also in countries struggling with aging populations. While the U.S. recorded an all-time high number of quits in 2021, the European Union struggled with steadily rising job vacancy rates.

No wonder boomerang workers seem like the solution to fill open positions. After all, you don’t have to attract and retain their talent as you would new hires.

But that’s not all…

Reasons Why You Should Rehire Boomerang Workers

Boomerangs Bring New Experience

As previously mentioned, employees may have left their jobs for various reasons, including to deal with family situations. Some may have been caught up in the pandemic firings while others left seeking career changes or other experiences.

Regardless of why they departed, these employees may bring back new experiences that may prove valuable to your business. Their varying perspectives combined with the growth they gained while exploring other industries can provide additional value for the company they are rejoining.

Boomerangs Outperform New Hires

Cornell University performed a study to compare the performance of 2,000 boomerang employees to around 11,000 new hires in a U.S.-based health organization. They found that boomerang workers performed at higher levels than their peers.

As mentioned above, boomerangs bring new experiences and perspectives that can significantly benefit the company. Perhaps, after their stint at a competitor, they have a new outlook on the market and have fresh insights that were not known to your business before.

Not to mention they might be more committed and satisfied than new hires. The reason is that they now know what they missed the first time and perhaps want to do things differently.

Boomerangs Are Faster and Easier to Onboard

Consider an employee who left for a few months and returns to the same position. They are already aware of what the role entails, though they may need to learn about some changes to work processes that were implemented after they left.

Their learning curve will still be far lower than a new hire’s given their existing knowledge of the company culture. This gives them a clear advantage over new employees who must learn from scratch all the ins and outs of the organization.

This is especially true for large organizations with complex systems, hierarchies, and divisions.

Boomerangs Lower Costs of Onboarding and Retaining Talent

According to data by the SHRM, it costs you nearly $4,700 to recruit a new hire. In fact, many employers estimate that the total cost to hire a new employee could be three times the position’s salary.

With the current labor market situation, you’d want to keep hiring costs down. That’s one of the benefits of rehiring ex-employees. Research suggests that employers can save one-third or two-thirds of recruiting costs when they rehire workers.

If you’re struggling to find workers to fill vacancies, boomerang employees may provide the untapped source of talent that you are looking for.

Boomerangs Have a Proven Track Record

Every new hire tout about how skilled, hard-working, and meticulous they are. However, you only really get to see them in action after you’ve hired them. With an ex-employee, you already know their characters, skills, and behaviors.

Additionally, if you use a time tracking system to monitor your workers, you already have data showing their performance levels. This is a plus since you don’t have to speculate or guess how they will turn out or if they have the in-demand skills you’ve been looking for. The data offers a proven success record that new hires don’t have.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rehire Boomerang Workers

There’s always fear associated with rehiring employees who left for various reasons. After all, there’s a saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

It’s not surprising then, that almost a third of HR professionals agree that boomerang employees might leave again. That alone is enough reason to be apprehensive of boomerang workers. But there are other concerns as well:

  • Boomerangs may hold grudges against managers or coworkers. If that’s the case, rehiring them risks harming team morale. Depending on the reason for the friction that existed between the ex-employee and a manager or workmate, things could get even worse. The last thing you want is to destabilize the existing relationships at the workplace by rehiring previous workers who left because of grudges. Therefore, consider revisiting their exit interview to determine why they really left the first time.
  • Boomerang employees may be resistant to change. A worker may have left to work in another company only to discover that the culture at the new company isn’t what they expected. If they return because they miss your organization’s culture, they may be unhappy to find that things changed in their absence. If they prefer the old way of doing things, they may share these ideas with newer coworkers, potentially influencing them to become resistant to the changes as well. Ultimately, this can hurt employee morale.
  • Boomerang workers may feel entitled. Here’s a real problem with ex-employees: they may expect seniority, perks, or a good compensation just because they worked here before. This could present new issues for you and your coworkers.
  • You’ll be ignoring stronger candidates. Hiring a previous worker is indeed a quick fix to staff shortage. However, are they the best candidate for the position? Well, not always. Favoring ex-workers might not be your best move since you could miss out on a top candidate with the right skills and expertise.

But, here’s something really interesting about rehiring employees. Based on research by the Harvard Business Review:

  • Boomerang workers’ performance tends to remain the same after being given a second chance. Additionally, ex-employees are likely to leave again for the same reasons they did the first time.
  • New hires have the potential to improve over time than rehires. The study shows that while rehires perform the same or better than new hires in the first year, they are outperformed after their first year on the job.
  • Boomerang workers have a higher turnover rate than new hires. According to the findings, rehires turned over more than twice compared to other employees.

How to Attract Boomerang Employees

So, you’re considering rehiring employees to fill vacant positions in your company. How do you go about it?

Build an Online Alumni Network

Many businesses hardly give a second thought to workers once they’ve left. This can be a costly oversight, considering they can be potential rehires, customers, investors, or ambassadors in the future.

So, to begin with, invest time in fostering and maintaining good working relationships with current and former employees. Once a member of your staff leaves, stay in touch, and even reach out to them a month after they leave to ask how they are faring.

Not because secretly, you hope they regret their decision, but because you sincerely want them to know how much you valued their working relationship.

The key objective of creating an alumni network is to stay in touch with alums and keep them updated about job opportunities. Usually, this will be through virtual networks, social media, or email, where you keep them informed about career opportunities so they can apply.

The network also enables the alums to refer friends to jobs, increasing your talent pool. 

Welcoming boomerang employees can prove incredibly valuable in building a strong company culture. Your current employees will know there won’t be repercussions for quitting their jobs and finding greener pastures elsewhere, only to find out it wasn’t the best decision.

Establish an Excellent Exit Process

Consider this. Would an employee who was escorted out of the building by security when their employment ended be willing to come back? Hardly. So, you’d want to establish an enlightened exit interview that will help maintain good working relationships with workers even after they depart.

The process should be formulated to capture valuable information like the reasons for leaving, future plans, and their views about the company. Likewise, be sure to get their contact information, so you have a way to reach out to them.

How to Onboard Boomerang Employees

Although they’ve worked with you before, boomerang workers should undergo the entire onboarding process. Doing so allows you to learn about the skills and experiences they’ve gained.

Likewise, it will help introduce the ex-employee to critical changes that occurred in their absence. 

Define a New Onboarding Process for Boomerang Employees

Generally, the onboarding process for rehires should differ from that designed for new employees. For one, you’ll want to know pertinent issues like why they left and why they want to come back.

It’s also important to try to fully understand if they are ready to fit this new role. Therefore, you might want answers to the following questions:

  • Have the issues that contributed to the employee leaving been addressed?
  • Is the worker the best candidate for the role?
  • Is the employee running away from the new job they resigned to take?
  • Does the worker have clarity as to their reasons for returning, and can they clearly explain them?

With that in mind, when onboarding rehires, you might want to adjust the process to encompass certain key factors, including:

  1. How long the employee was away from the company
  2. How different is their new role compared to the previously held position at your company?
  3. What has changed in terms of structure since they left? For example, you could’ve added remote work and the tools to facilitate this work model, enabling the boomerang to work from a different city.
  4. How many, if any, is left of the ex-employee’s previous cross-team collaborators, internal network of peers, or internal customers?

Follow a Similar Recruitment Workflow

Now that you have formulated a new strategy or process to onboard former employees, you’d still want them to go through the same process as new hires. You don’t want others to feel like you’re giving them special treatment, as that could spark resentment.

So, send everyone the normal new hire paperwork, such as an employment agreement, offer letter, and tax documents. When they arrive, have them attend the full orientation program along with the other new employees.

This way, they’ll learn new policies and procedures, meet new members and managers, and review the updated employee handbook.

They should also be guided on their new roles and introduced to new software and processes. Additionally, rehires should be reminded of the company mission, short- and long-term goals, as well their responsibilities.

Establish a Boomerang Employee’s Policy

You may also want to consider issues like seniority when onboarding a boomerang employee. If certain perks like salary bump or vacation are tied to years of service, how do you want to handle it? Will their initial employment term count towards their total years of service at the company?

If you don’t have a policy that addresses issues related to boomerang workers, you may want to create one soon. This will streamline various aspects of their journey back and save you lots of headaches and time.

Prepare Team Members Before a Boomerang’s Re-Arrival

Most importantly, be sure to talk to your team, informing them of your plans to rehire an employee. Remember, a former worker could be holding grudges against other co-workers, especially if they are returning to a similar team. So, you’d want to iron out any differences that existed before their return.

If they will be joining a new team, it’s crucial to learn how the new team members will react. Involving the team allows you to get a sense if the rehire is welcome or if it will harm team morale.

Rehiring Former Employees: Should You or Should You Not?

Here’s the thing. Hiring boomerang employees is less risky since there’s the predictability of job performance, and they may contribute more quickly than new hires. Additionally, they significantly lower recruiting costs and may outperform new hires.

However, you also risk missing out on the best candidate, dealing with increased turnover, and reigniting past friction. Moreover, ask yourself if you’d be willing to accept their performance levels since you already have their data.

If you decide to welcome back former employees, consider doing it right if you intend to boost productivity. Establish the proper procedures and invest in reliable recruitment software to streamline the entire process.

Hiring Boomerang Employees FAQs:

Q: What is boomerang in recruitment?

A: Boomerang refers to an employee who worked for a company and left, but then returns to their former company again. Thirty years ago, this was considered disloyal. However, today, employers are recognizing that boomerangs could be beneficial to their businesses.

Q: How do you interview a boomerang employee?

A: While you may want to ask boomerang workers the same questions you would new hires, consider adjusting your onboarding process to match the specific employee. This will vary depending on factors like why the employee left and for how long. Some of the interview questions to ask boomerang employees include:

  • Why did you leave the organization initially?
  • Why would you like to work with us again?
  • What new skills and experiences have you gained?
  • What excites you the most about returning to the company?
  • What would you do differently to grow in the company?

Q: Is it OK to be a boomerang employee?

A: You may have valid reasons for leaving your company. Maybe you were laid off during the pandemic, or you had to take care of people you loved. If you didn’t have any performance issues and have a clean track record, you may benefit your former company in many ways.

On the other hand, if you were terminated due to poor performance or personal issues, like workplace bullying or sexual harassment, it would be a mistake to seek re-employment at your former company.

Q: Do you have to interview rehires?

A: It’s advisable to interview former employees even though you’ve worked with them before. Doing so enables you to learn about their newly gained experiences and skills, and understand why they left in the first place.

It would be a mistake to assume the boomerang employee will pick up where they left off. People change, and your organization may have undergone restructuring. So, you want to follow the standard interview and orientation process to bring them up to speed and get to know them better.

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