Two fifths of managers are reluctant to hire ‘boomerang’ employees, research finds

Experts challenge employers’ hesitation, stating that former workers can return to the organisation and ‘hit the ground running’

Credit: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStockphoto/Getty Images

More than two fifths (44 per cent) of managers are reluctant to hire a former employee back into their team, research has found.

The survey of 3,000 professionals, conducted by Robert Walters, found that almost three quarters of professionals (71 per cent) have stated that they are open to returning to their pre-Covid employer, however, the research suggests that they might not always be welcome.

Commenting on managers’ hesitation, Toby Fowlston, Robert Walters CEO, said: “I’m afraid managers/employers need to swallow their pride here. While the global recruitment market has slowed slightly in 2023, candidate shortages continue – and so the fact there is a pool of talent open to re-joining business should excite leaders.”

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Emily Charlesworth, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus, said reluctance from managers to boomerang hire may stem from the “risk of resigning again” among returning employees.

“They’ve done it once so don’t have the same fear of leaving again,” she said.

“It’s important to address the reasons for leaving and ensure they are resolved on [the worker’s] return. There may be ill-feeling from longer serving colleagues that risks disengagement if returners come back on better terms.”

Being transparent about these potential risks, and demonstrating the opportunity and benefits boomerang employees offer, “should be well communicated to line managers to address concerns”, Charlesworth added.

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According to the poll, half (49 per cent) of employees admit that the reasons as to why they left their previous jobs are no longer applicable in today’s market. 

It also found that 82 per cent of respondents remain in touch with their previous employers, with almost a third (29 per cent) stating this was primarily in order to keep the door open for future job opportunities.

Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, said boomerang employees provide multiple upsides, agreeing with Fowlston that returning workers “can hit the ground running”.

She said: “They don’t require the same extensive inducting and onboarding that a new starter would normally require. Purely from a ‘bang for your buck’ perspective, you often get much greater productivity during those early months than you would otherwise expect. 

“This benefits the wider team too, especially when you’re hiring to bolster resources and create bandwidth, and will, hopefully, also have a positive impact on morale and overall performance.”

Some of the greatest examples of boomerang employees stem from those “who leave for genuine career progression”, Williams added.

“They’ve usually gained more experience, are more skilled, and have a real passion to return to work for your business,” she said.

Mary Maguire, managing director at Astute Recruitment, said boomerang hires are a “brilliant staffing solution”.

“The boomerang already knows the systems, the teams, and the business and often has invaluable insights that a brand new employee to the business will have to spend a long time learning,” she said. “They may have gained greater commercial skills to add more value to the business since they last left too.”

According to the Robert Walters survey, 45 per cent of workers who had left their job after lockdown did so for better pay, with a further 35 per cent leaving for a better workplace culture or more purpose and fulfilment in their role.

Two years later, 48 per cent of professionals admit that their current employer is no longer meeting their needs – with a third (24 per cent) stating the cost-of-living crisis and hybrid-working fatigue has changed how they feel about their most recent employment situation.

Liz-Sebag Montefiore, director and co-founder of 10Eighty, said factors since the pandemic are bound to have meant employees’ reasons for leaving old jobs aren’t as valid as today.

“There have been a lot of changes since these people left their jobs during the pandemic,” she said. “The two obvious ones are that the market has changed and wages are rising, so pay is not such a spur to leave a job. Secondly, most of us now have more flexibility about our working time with more work from home and hybrid working options available, so work life balance is a bit easier.”

“Attitudes” have also changed since the pandemic, Montefiore suggested, and work and culture matters much more to people. “If [someone] had a good experience at a previous employer that's a bonus in favour of that organisation,” she said.