Why company 'boomerangs' actually show a failure in a culture

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4 min read
Side view of businessman using laptop at desk in office
Rehiring former employees may be an indicator of a more insidious problem in a workplace — and a sign of a company’s cultural failings.

You’re going through the applications for a new position at your company and you spot a familiar name. As you go through their CV, you realise the applicant is actually a former employee, but quit their job last year for a position elsewhere.

The individual in question was a great employee and seemed to fit in well with the company, so you decide to offer them an interview. In the back of your mind, though, you’re wondering why they decided to leave in the first place - and why they want to return.

Known as ‘boomerang’ employees, there are many reasons why a worker may quit a job only to return to the company at a later date. It may be because they received an opportunity to further their career or earn more, but it simply didn’t work out. Perhaps their circumstances changed, or they reassessed their career move.

Boomerang employees are often seen as a testament to a company — after all, a company must be good for someone to come back. Additionally, hiring someone you already know and who is familiar with a business may seem less risky than finding someone new.

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But rehiring former employees may be an indicator of a more insidious problem in a workplace — and a sign of a company’s cultural failings.

“There is usually a reason as to why an employee would want to leave an employer's business, however small that reason may be – most of the time it is because they have found a better opportunity elsewhere,” says Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula.

“Better opportunity’ is a blanket term that cloaks a deeper issue with the company, including the likelihood that the pay and benefits packages on offer are not competitive enough, or that the company has failed to deal with grievances well, if at all.”

Whilst the boomerang in the name suggests that the employee later wants to return, this is not always a good thing, depending on the employee reasons.

“It could just be that they have made unsuccessful attempts to find another company, or they may have been let go for failing to meet the relevant targets,” Palmer says. “These are both a bad reflection on the company as it could mean that the employee hasn’t undergone the appropriate training, or maybe their role wasn’t challenging enough and hasn’t exposed them to enough key industry skills.”

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Essentially, boomerang employees may suggest that a company didn’t do enough to keep them in the first place. Without opportunities to develop, up-skill and progress in their career, it’s only natural for workers to look elsewhere.

Rehiring a former employee does come with some benefits, depending on why it is that they left.

They may already be familiar with the company, job and expectations and bring back new skills, experiences and connections from their work elsewhere.

However, the issues that caused them to leave in the first place could resurface, meaning there is a danger of them leaving again. If someone left with bad blood, this could lead to a lot of problems.

“Therefore, the company will be forced to face these issues when the boomerang employee is first being spoken to about returning,” Palmer says. “A negotiation may ensue, and the company may be forced to pay them more, if this was the issue, meaning a more costly hire in the long run.”

Rehiring a boomerang employee may also detriment the company’s advancement. “While it’ll make the recruitment process slightly easier, it limits the company’s chances of finding better talent who’ll be more willing to stay long term,” she adds.

So what can companies do to prevent employees leaving and then returning? According to Palmer, the best way to avoid future resignations is to learn from past ones.

“Companies should take the exit interviews they did with their ex-employees into consideration, even those who did not wish to return and apply relevant changes in line with it,” she says. “This will give companies a good starting point to figuring out why an employee may leave in future.”

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