Why companies should embrace boomerang employees

Rita Trehan explains the many benefits of rehiring previous workers

Credit: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images

The boomerang was originally made for hunting and there are two ways to handle it. The first is to catch it and live to throw it again. The second is not to catch it, and face the consequences.

Boomerang employees – workers who return to old jobs – are no different (and a good deal less dangerous). The question for employers is whether to catch or not to catch: to hire again, or try their chances on fresh talent? 

Employers will face this quandary more and more often. The Great Resignation saw thousands quit their jobs. But high quit rates tend to coincide with economic stability and a confidence that the pastures of employment are greener on the other side. 

Conversely, in times of hardship people are loath to quit. During the Great Depression, the U.S. quit rate fell from two per cent to 1.3 per cent . Now that bills and inflation are soaring in Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere, it stands to reason that many who contributed to the Great Resignation won’t think it’s great for much longer. LinkedIn reports that 4.5 per cent of new recruits were boomerangs compared with 3.9 per cent in 2019.

As a renowned business transformation and HR expert, I believe that boomerang employees are a blessing in disguise. I say disguise because it’s by no means obvious why companies shouldn’t confront boomerang employees with an ungracious pose: So you came crawling back, did you? In start-ups especially, where there’s less likely to be a large, professional and well-oiled HR department, there is always the risk of resenting workers for having left in the first place.

But this is hardly helpful, and reveals a sluggish unwillingness to think outside the traditional employment box.

One immediate benefit of welcoming boomerangs back with open arms is the simple reason that it is cheaper to do so. Onboarding is costly and lengthy. According to Glassdoor research the average U.S. company spends $4,000 and 24 days in hiring a completely new worker. For boomerangs this can potentially be cut in half

Of course, as always there’s a trade-off. Boomerangs are more likely to ask for higher pay, and companies will need to balance this expenditure with that spent on onboarding.

It’s worth it. With women more likely than men (46% and 34% respectively) to report looking for a new job for higher pay, and 82% of hispanic and 67% of black workers likewise, companies cannot culturally, let alone economically, afford to accept boomerangs on the cheap. My own company, Dare Worldwide, surveyed 1,000 respondents, of whom 65% said that their company was unsuccessful in implementing its purpose. And going forward, that purpose must be shaped by inclusive organisations. Our Inclusivity Index Report concluded that diversity is a business imperative. A boomerang salary is a price worth paying.

This remains true whether there’s a pound or a dollar sign attached or not. A cynic, said Wilde, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing – and boomerangs are very valuable indeed. As of 2022 the average worker will have 12 jobs in their lifetime, and these may well be in different industries. In other words boomerangs are potential treasure troves of knowledge and experience which can be used to enrich a company’s culture and perspective. 

This allows employers to learn why the boomerang left in the first place so that they can address the problem company-wide and make it less likely others will follow suit. They may even learn a little of ‘the competition’, provided the boomerang has remained in the same industry. Above all, they can capitalise on the skills brought back from afar.

So why wait passively for such skills, knowledge and experience to come to you? Companies can actively attract boomerangs in a number of ways. Alumni-focussed recruiting programs, for example. Besides keeping in touch with alumni, they could have access to a portal-cum-search engine that matches their profiles with the right job. A similar effort to tailor onboarding might, as well as being cheaper, address how long the boomerang was away, how different (if at all) their new role is compared to the old one, and any differences in the company’s organisational structure. 

These would remove some of the friction and anxiety from re-enrolling. Failing this, the most proactive enticement is for companies to simply go get ’em: email the boomerang and ask them how they like the sound of a comeback. Convey the message that their absence is a strength.

After all this, it could be argued that the boomerang in question wasn’t personally missed: a polite euphemism for an impolite consensus. Perhaps their KPIs were never quite up to scratch. Perhaps they were ill-fitted to the company’s culture. Perhaps they didn’t appreciate, or see eye to eye with, the leadership. Whatever the reason, companies have of course the prerogative to look for a new recruit who lacks none of the above. In fact, this will always be desirable to some extent. A thriving company, like a thriving ecosystem or a thriving culture, needs cross-pollination.

Nevertheless, employers should embrace the idea of boomerangs. Better the devil you know. In an age when companies are competing to be the most innovative and envelope-pushing, the truly radical company will recognise the need for a stolid counterbalance in the familiar. And what could be more familiar than a boomerang?

Rita Trehan is founder of Dare Worldwide