Hiring managers are firing up every recruiting tool they have in today's tight labor market — including asking ex-employees to come back. Some management researchers say the Great Resignation of 2021 could lead to the rise of the "boomerang employee" in the next five years as pandemic-era labor disruptions continue to shake out.
Businesses have a lot of incentives to rehire former employees, namely saving time and money on recruiting, onboarding and getting a person up to speed to fill a vacancy. Boomerang employees are easier to socialize into a company's culture and can bring with them skills and experience they gained from the outside.
But what do workers get out of it? After all, if people leave jobs for a reason, is it ever a good idea to go back?
When boomeranging could be a good idea
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Returning to a former employer could be a good thing in some cases, says Abbie Shipp, a management professor at Texas Christian University who specializes in employee engagement over time.
As long as your resume doesn't show a pattern of leaving and rejoining a company over and over again, "being a boomerang employee doesn't carry a negative stigma that it once did," Shipp tells CNBC Make It.
Rehires tend to be high performers who left their old job for an unexpected reason, like having to move away for a partner's job, to start a family, or to accept a surprise job offer they couldn't refuse at the time. Returning shows you left on good terms, and that perhaps you're such a valuable member of the team that your old company wants you back.
Rehires also tend to be paid more than workers who stayed with the company, says Brian Swider, a management professor at the University of Florida and an expert on boomerang employees: "You often leave for a better offer, and then you're brought back with a better offer."
A job change gives you another chance to negotiate your pay and benefits, especially as employers want to fill vacancies quickly, and the spread of remote work has put more flex-work options on the table.
With that said, Swider says boomerang employees tend to be paid less than truly external hires, whether that comes down to differences in the employer's offer or differences in how a boomerang versus external candidate negotiates for their pay. It's possible boomerang workers are willing to sacrifice a little bit of salary for larger certainty of the organization they're walking into and the job they'll be expected to do, Swider says.
How to consider a boomerang offer
Deciding to rejoin an old company is a very different experience from deciding to join a new one, and it requires a few extra considerations. You have history with a former organization, and you don't want that history to give you an overly rosy view of good experiences from the past, Shipp says.
"It's incredibly important to take in all the information of your prior experience with the firm," she says, noting to be extra aware of what made you leave in the first place. Are those problems still there?
If you left because you didn't like your boss's management style, but that person has now left the company, you might find the work experience more enjoyable. But if you left because you didn't see a path to promotion at the company, and the organization still has a poor track record of training and promoting leaders, you alone might not be able to do much to improve the situation once you're back.
Even if you had a great experience working there before, don't assume you're returning to the same workplace you once knew. The pandemic impacted every organization differently, and the business could have entirely different employee resources, workflows, business operations or objectives.
Further, the workforce could look entirely different if the company has had to deal with a lot of turnover. You might not be returning to familiar coworkers, and you might have to pick up some extra tasks if the company is working to fill vacancies.
Still, going back to a workplace where you had a positive experience in the past might be a better alternative to a current job that's not meeting your personal and professional needs. With a boomerang offer, do you see opportunities to learn valuable skills, grow into a new role, be supported by colleagues and make use of employee benefits that work for your family?
Ultimately, Shipp says, "try not to do what most people do: selectively craft information that leads them to the decision they want to make."
Tips for a successful return
If a boomerang offer feels like a good fit for your life and career goals, there are a number of ways to make the reunion a good one.
You'll want to balance three things, Shipp says: the prior knowledge you have with the company in order to get up to speed; the skills and experience you gained while working for another organization; and, most importantly, the open-mindedness of being a "new" teammate who's ready to raise questions and solutions from an outsider's perspective.
Tap your prior knowledge to do well on the task at hand, but don't assume you know everything about the best way to do things, Shipp says, especially if you've been gone for a while and things have changed since you left.
Approach your network with a similar mindset and make sure to reach out to both old and new colleagues.
Be aware of and sensitive to colleagues who stayed with the company and who may not feel their loyalty has been rewarded through additional pay, perks or recognition.
Being approachable and open-minded with colleagues can help smooth some of the tension and show you're open to "being coachable" by the people who've stayed, and that you're hoping you can learn from each other.
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