HR departments face fierce competition for talent, especially when looking to recruit individuals with niche skills that are in short supply. Even when they find someone who looks great on paper and persuade them to join the organisation, there is always the possibility that their skills won’t live up to expectations or that they won’t be a good fit with the company culture.

Once HR has employed these skilled people, it works hard at retaining them and most companies have a variety of retention strategies to recognise and incentivise employees. One area that is, however, overlooked, is pursuing former employees to return. To support this view, we are seeing more and more HR departments and team leaders look at “boomerang employees” as a source of talent.

As the term suggests, a boomerang employee is a colleague who left a company, only to return to it.

Here are some of the reasons why boomerang employees can be a great source of talent:

There is usually a strong sense of camaraderie among team members and when a respected member leaves – even if for a benign reason such as to study, work overseas for a while or try a completely new role – morale may dip. Conversely, we have seen morale increase when a well-liked team member returns.

A boomerang colleague can offer a unique perspective because they will have been in contexts that challenge the practice of your organisation. They will know your company intimately, yet they will return with a fresh view of where other companies are moving towards and doing. 

Their insights could be valuable if they come back from working in another organisation or an adjacent industry. 

Training and onboarding are faster and simpler than they are for someone who has not worked at the company before. A former colleague is already familiar with the company’s systems, processes, culture and policies, knows where to find the coffee and will be ready to get to work relatively quickly.

Both parties know what they’re in for. Your company will have a good idea about what the boomerang candidate’s strengths and weaknesses are. If someone was a strong performer in the past and left the company on good terms, the risks of rehiring them will be low. 

The returning employee will also have a realistic view of the pros and cons of the workplace. As every talent manager knows, recruiting people is time-consuming and expensive. With a boomerang employee, you can often short-cut through the ad placements, recruiter commissions, interviews and thorough reference checks involved in hiring someone new. This can considerably reduce the time and money it takes to recruit. Even if it is low key and informal, it can pay off to have a strategy for engaging with former employees. 

For example, our team is encouraged to invite former colleagues to some of our internal socials. It is not unusual for someone who had left the company for a couple of years to hear about a new job opportunity from a colleague and to successfully apply for the position.

Another way to keep in touch with former employees includes staying connected through social media, for example, alumni groups on LinkedIn, sending a company newsletter out to the alumni community and staying in contact with an occasional phone call or email. A constructive exit interview when an employee leaves can also set up a good relationship for the future.

Today, people have more careers and global mobility than they did in the past, and organisations are designed to make use of a more fluid skills pool than before. In this context, it makes sense to remain open-minded about high-performing boomerang employees who have a proven fit with your business.  As much as companies hate seeing their top-skilled employees leave, they should let them go with the knowledge that they may get them back later.
Hector Coull is global human resources director at Acceleration.

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