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Boomerang employees - should you hire old staff back?

02 August 2021 by Grant Brummer
Woman Returns To Work

Gone are the days when it was taboo to rehire people who left an organisation because they were seen as disloyal. But when you’re faced with deciding whether to rehire someone, what do you do?

A quick Google will find you plenty of articles that confirm your gut feeling that rehiring is a no-brain decision. But a recent study of more than 30,000 subjects suggests you should tread carefully and that welcoming old staff back is not usually the best decision when you’ve got alternatives.

The benefits seem obvious - less risk, reduced recruitment costs, less training required, a more committed employee… but these assumptions were really a matter of opinion as nobody had done any detailed research into the subject until this year. A study published in theJournal of Management looked into ‘boomerang employees’ - people who leave and come back to an organisation - and whether rehiring them is a good staffing strategy. 

The short answer - probably not. 

The study looked into two main questions:

1.  Do boomerang employees improve their performance at work after they return to a company?

2. How do the performance levels and rates of turnover compare to a) people recruited internally and b) new external candidates?

Their findings:

  • The behaviour of boomerang employees is predictable if you look at their initial employment at the company.

  • Job performance tends to stay the same for boomerang employees rather than increase or decrease despite the new knowledge and maturity they may bring back.

  • Boomerang employees aren’t more loyal than other hires. They are considerably more likely to leave than internal and new external candidates.

  • Boomerang employees that come back a second time tend to leave for similar reasons to when they originally left.

  • While boomerang employees’ performance is similar to everyone else’s in their first year, internal and external hires improved their performance more over time and outperformed boomerang-ers after year one.

Should you still think about rehiring employees?

It’s not worth hiring someone back if you’re relying on some renewed energy and insight that will see them outperform their previous self at your company. However, if the way they performed and acted before was satisfactory and comparable to other candidates available to you, then you may well reap the assumed benefits mentioned above and save a lot of time and hassle in on boarding your new (old) employee.

The study suggests that what a candidate who used to work for the company will do - how they behave, the way they communicate, their performance, what their attitude is like etc. - is likely to be consistent with what happened in their previous engagement.Soit would make sense to look into their previous employment with yourorganisationand how their performance went over time. You should also probably explore their time at the company when talking with the boomerang candidate during the interview and selection process.

Why did the boomerang candidate leave in the first place? You should look into whether the issues that led them to leave last time have been resolved, because the research shows they’re likely to resign for the same reasons if not.