Tech companies face fierce competition for talent because the niche skills we require are in short supply. Even when you find someone who looks great on paper and persuade them to join your 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 your company culture.
Once we have them, we then need to work very hard at retaining them, and we all have a variety of retention strategies that we use – free lunch, work flexibility, development opportunities, etc. One area that is overlooked is getting ex-employees to return. To support this view, we are seeing more and more departments and team leaders look at so-called ‘boomerang employees’ as a source of talent. According to one survey in the US, more than nine out of 10 managers would consider rehiring a former colleague, while 52% of employees would consider returning to a previous workplace.
As the term suggests, a boomerang employee is a colleague who left a company, only to later return to its fold.
Here are some of the reasons that boomerang employees can be a great source of talent:
- In a technology firm, there is usually a strong sense of camaraderie among the techies in the trenches and on the frontlines. When a respected member of the team leaves – even if for a benign reason such as to study, work overseas for a while, or try completely a 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 orthodoxy of your organisation. They will know your company intimately, yet they will return with a fresh view of what other companies are thinking and doing. Their insights can be amazing if they come back from working within a client 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 reduce the time and money it takes to recruit considerably.
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’s 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 include 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 the 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 career 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 we hate seeing our top employees leaving, we should sometimes let them go, knowing full well that we can get them back later.