OK, Boomerang: How to Turn Job-Hopping Millennials into Boomerang Employees

by Mike Tannian on March 22, 2022

More companies are turning to boomerang employees, meaning they're hiring former employees to fill much-needed roles. If you know how to recruit and retain Millennials, you can create a boomerang-friendly workplace.

Article Highlights

Thanks to the Great Resignation and the tight labor market, many organizations are looking at former employees to fill in some of the gaps in their workforce. Large corporations are bringing back former associates to their old positions or for promotions, moving them along their career path. Even manufacturers are looking to hire retired employees to meet increased demand.

For these so-called boomerang employees, it's a chance to continue with their career advancement, while the employers get someone with a wealth of past knowledge, information, and experiences, as well as strong company loyalty. The onboarding process is shorter, training costs are reduced, and the recruitment process is easier. In many cases, the hiring process can almost be eliminated – just find your best former employees and ask them to come back.

You may need to have a candid conversation about salary and title, of course, but you already know what the person is capable of, so you can skip the discovery process and go straight to the hiring date. Just dust off their old employment records and they're ready to start.

In this article, we'll talk about current workforce trends, what is a boomerang employee, the benefits of a boomerang hire, and five steps to creating boomerang employees.

What is a Boomerang Employee?

A boomerang employee is just what the name suggests: an employee who leaves an organization and then later comes back.

We're seeing more Millennials return to their old employers as they become more conditioned to move to a new job every few years. Company loyalty is usually not the issue; this is the society we live and work in now. They move on for new challenges and new opportunities, and they may come back for the same reasons.

People leave their company for any number of reasons. They got a new job somewhere else, they needed to reset after they burned out, or perhaps they left for a major life event, to care for a sick family member, or had their own medical condition.

Sometimes, after they leave, the employee realizes they liked their old employer better and decide they want to come back. Or they love working in the industry and there are only a few places that need their skills. Or a toxic manager has moved on to greener pastures and it's safe to return.

So, they boomerang back to their old job or move up the career ladder a rung or two.

Current Workforce Trends

For the most part, boomerangs tend to be Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996.

Baby Boomers (1946 –1964) and Generation X (1965 – 1980) are still in the trend of staying at the same job, or at least the same company, for years. They tend not to job hop or explore new options every few years. However, Millennials will hop between jobs, spending an average of 3–5 years at each. 

Let's look at some boomerang employee statistics.

According to the Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employee Study, 15% of employees have returned to a former employer and 40% of employees would consider returning to a former employer. This breaks down to 46% of Millenials, 33% of Gen Xers, and 29% of Baby Boomers.

Of course, whether an employee can return or not will depend on whether they left on good terms. Did they leave to take care of a personal health issue or to take care of a family member? Or did they leave because of an amazing new opportunity they couldn't pass up? Maybe they left for more money, which means they'll be expecting a similar increase in salary when they return.

We've talked in other articles about how to recruit and retain Millennials, which you can find on our website.

Benefits of Rehiring Former Employees

Boomerang employees can bring a lot of benefits to their former employer. After all, there was something special about them, which is why you hired them in the first place and are looking to hire them again. And if they return to the organization, they'll bring even more skills and knowledge back. But there are a few other benefits to hiring these returning workers.

They expand your network

When people leave your organization, you can pretend you've never heard of them and erase all existence of them from the company. Or you can stay in touch with them in the same way a college keeps in touch with its alumni.

When your employees leave, they can become contacts at their new and current employers, who could become your customers or your partners. (If that's the case, do you really want to have a sour relationship with your former – and their current – employees?)

This also means that when they return, they're bringing new contacts and a bigger network with them. Again, those people can become strategic partners, so look to boomerang employees and their extensive connections.

They know the organization

Former employees understand the organization, its dynamics, mission, and values. They know the systems, processes, company culture, and customers. They may require some additional training if they've been gone for a while, but even so, they have a solid foundation to build on.

They also bring back institutional knowledge that you may have been missing. They know why a customer orders a particular product when no one else does. They know the history of your ERP software. And they know where the backup coffee filters are kept in the break room. Institutional knowledge can help your company understand the whys of a lot of your current systems and processes.

As Winston Churchill once said, "The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see."

They have new skills and knowledge

A company should feel proud when an employee moves on to a new opportunity because your organization helped them grow into that position. The skills and knowledge that made them attractive to that new employer? You taught them that. They learned it by being a part of your organization.

So, if someone wants to return to the nest, let them because they're bringing new skills and knowledge back to you. By leaving, they learned a lot of things that they might not have learned at your organization. They know new systems, new processes, new technology, and new ideas. Why wouldn't you want someone with all of that in their arsenal?

The difference between resignation and termination

Of course, not every former employee is worth bringing back. After all, you may have terminated some employees, and bringing them back is probably not a good idea. There was a reason they were terminated, and there's a very good chance those reasons are still there.

Also, pay attention to the difference between terminated and "asked to resign." This is especially true if the person in question was a toxic manager or employee. Chances are, their department had some low morale and productivity, not to mention high turnover. But even if that manager wasn't terminated outright, and was allowed to resign, talk to the people who used to work for them. Find out what those people thought of their former manager and whether they would be happy working for them again.

There are some stories of people who were rehired after being unceremoniously fired by the organization – the fiery, five-time manager of the New York Yankees, Billy Martin, comes to mind – and these stories prove the rule. If you consider hiring someone who was terminated or asked to resign, proceed very carefully.

5 Steps to Creating Boomerang Employees

You can actually create boomerang employees, meaning you can create a workplace that people want to come back to. We’ve laid out five steps to do just that – and it starts with understanding how to recruit and retain Millennials.

  1. Commit to the long-term strategy. This is not going to happen right away; it will take a few years. Remember, those most likely to job hop and return after a few years are your Millennial employees. But to get them to want to return, yours needs to be a workplace they want to return to. Make sure you're doing things like embracing technology in the workplace, are committed to a diverse, equitable, inclusive (DEI) workplace, and have plenty of opportunities for professional development and advancement.

  2. And don't forget Generation Z (1997 – 2015). They probably don't plan to stay with your organization for the long term. Statistics show that more than half of Gen Z intends to look for a new job within three years. Attracting Gen Z candidates is challenging now, retaining them will be the next hurdle, and getting them back will be the third.

  3. Compile reasons for people's resignation. You can make this part of your offboarding checklist. Ask people why they're leaving and pay attention to those reasons. Are they leaving because of pay? Benefits? A problematic culture, career stagnation, or a toxic manager? This knowledge can help you make improvements moving forward.

  4. Track the trends in employee resignations and work with leadership to improve those systems. If the same reasons keep popping up, you'll have to address them in order to get your former employees to return.

  5. Develop an offboarding checklist and process. There are a few steps you should take when employees leave. You already have an onboarding process and checklist, so it makes sense to have an offboarding checklist as well. It's more than just an exit interview and a farewell handshake. Be sure to include these steps in your offboarding process:

    Communicate the employee's departure to the appropriate staff.
    Prepare the paperwork.
    Initiate a knowledge transfer.
    Recover any company assets.
    Update IT permissions and access; change passwords.
    Conduct an exit interview.
    Leave the door open for a return.
    Prepare for future reference requests.

  6. Create an alumni network. Just like colleges and universities have alumni associations, many large companies – Deloitte, Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group – have alumni associations and recruit many of their alumni to return to their organization. Send quarterly emails that highlight the current culture, job openings, and changes in the organization. Survey alumni about their time at the organization and ask them about things they see on the horizon. Most importantly, make sure the HR department knows about your growing alumni network so they can include them in your applicant tracking system.

Final Thoughts

Some of your best new employees could be your old employees who return to the fold after a few years away. These boomerang employees can be great assets because they bring institutional knowledge, new skills, an understanding of the organization, and familiarity with the work and your mission.

To learn more about adding diverse candidates and boomerang employees to the hiring process, including how to recruit and retain Millennials and other diverse candidates, you can visit our website for more information.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.

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