Boomerang employees are individuals who leave their job and employer but then return to work for the same organisation in future.
A boomerang employee is someone who leaves their job at a company but then returns to work for the same organisation in future. They can rejoin once or multiple times. The term relates to the boomerang, traditionally an Australian Aboriginal hunting weapon based on a flat carved wood design, that can return to its thrower once it’s been thrown.
Boomerang employee (also known as a ‘boomerang worker’ or ‘rehire’) is a term usually associated with someone who leaves a job of their own accord, for personal or professional reasons, and moves on to a role in another organisation, before returning to their former employer. But it could also include a person who is made redundant, quits work altogether, or retires and then later decides they want or need to return to work.
Sentiments behind someone’s return to their former employer often vary but may include:
- A belief that they are better off in their old job
- Lack of security in a subsequent role
- Deciding they made wrong the decision
- The new role not matching up to expectations
- Missing relationships with former employees or the workplace culture
- Financial motivations
History of boomerang employees
Historically, there used to be some stigma attached to returning to a former workplace after moving on to a new role and employer, as it was often associated with moving backwards in your career. Some organisations had a policy against rehiring former employees, even if the person left the company in good standing. But according to a 2015 survey by the Workforce Institute and website WorkplaceTrends.com, there has been a changing mindset among hiring managers and employers in recent years. Three-quarters of HR professionals and 65% of managers surveyed in the US said they were more accepting of hiring boomerang employees than they used to be. The report revealed that between 2010-2015, the majority (85%) had received job applications from former staff and 40% said their organisation hired around half of the ex-employees who applied.
In a 2016 article published on Business Insider, Brendan Browne, then VP of Global Talent Acquisition for LinkedIn, attributed the rise in boomerang employees, in large part, to how often people now change jobs. In previous generations, frequently switching jobs or even careers, was uncommon. Between 1996 to 2016, noted Browne, LinkedIn data showed that the number of companies people worked for in the first five years after graduating from university had nearly doubled.
Recent trends in boomerang employees
During Covid-19, a record number of people left their jobs – a period known as the Great Resignation, when many professionals reassessed their values, purpose and relationship with work; taking more ownership of their career paths. In a March 2022 article for Forbes, Professor Benjamin Laker said that experts like Anthony Klotz, who is credited with coining the Great Resignation phenomenon, predicted a surge in boomerang employees to be the next big trend in recruitment. According to research carried out in 2022, by tech company UKG – based on nearly 4,000 workers in six countries – 43% of people who left their employer during the pandemic decided they were better off at their old jobs. The report revealed that nearly 1 in 5 respondents had already boomeranged back to the job they left.
In 2023, Harvard Business Review wrote about common trends behind boomerang employees, including who these individuals are and when they return. Its analysis of three million employee records covering more than 120 enterprise-sized organisations between 2019-2022 showed that boomerang employees represented an average 33% of new hires in retail, compared to 25% in manufacturing and 14% in tech. Individuals who rejoined their old organisation were also more likely to be managers than non-managers. The same analysis found that the most typical time was within 13 months of their departure.
Advantages of boomerang employees
For employers, boomerang employees represent a potentially untapped pool of candidates. This can be particularly useful for organisations struggling to recruit enough people or finding it hard to bring in candidates with the right skills and experience. It is generally agreed that boomerang employees save employers time and money with the onboarding and training process, because rehired staff will be more familiar with the workplace, so onboarding and training is likely to be quicker and easier. These individuals are likely to get back up to speed faster than recruits who are completely new to the organisation. The amount of time and money it can save an organisation depends on the period of absence before someone boomerangs back. If the company has changed enormously, particularly in terms of IT systems and processes but also workplace culture, there won’t be as much to gain financially in rehiring a former employee.
Boomerang employees can help managers and employers to understand the positives and negatives about their organisation and company culture, including how it compares to other workplaces – as they can offer illuminating insight into why people are leaving and what is bringing them back. This can help with future recruitment strategies. The additional skills, experience or insights brought back into an organisation by former employees who have external experience elsewhere can also be beneficial to employers.
Boomerang employees are also a ‘known entity’, according to Lana Peters, Vice President of the Americas at HR tech platform HiBoB. In early 2022, she is quoted in the Society for Human Resource Management, explaining that a boomerang employee already has a sense of what the company is like, and essentially, what they are signing up for.
Disadvantages of boomerang employees
There are also reasons for organisations to be cautious about boomerang employees. One of the biggest risks is that these individuals could leave the organisation again, which is why employers are encouraged to make sure these employees’ expectations are clearly understood before rehiring them. Andrew Mawson, of Advanced Workplace Associates, writing for People Management about the pros and potential cons of boomerang employees, warns employers against rehiring staff just because it’s the safe option. Employers should be mindful of any potential disruption to the team, which could upset the current balance and impact business performance. It is also wise to be mindful, he explained, that returning employees may have much higher expectations than before. While understanding the business and workplace culture can be seen as an advantage to bringing boomerang employees back into the organisation, it could also be a disadvantage. These individuals might not see themselves as an equal member of the team or understand how a business’s priorities may have evolved during their absence.
One of the most famous boomerang employees was Steve Jobs, who resigned from Apple in 1985 and eventually returned some years later as CEO. In terms of employers, science and research website ResearchGate noted in 2015 that consulting firms were at the top of the boomerang employee trend. For example, it said Deloitte had reported that its policy of hiring boomerang employees had saved the company $3.8 million in search firm fees per year. Similarly, said the article, Shell Oil Company had invested in an online networking platform for former employees in its alumni network.