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Should you rehire ex-employees?

02/06/21 Evi Farkas Consultant, Contract & Interim

Rehiring a former employee can be complicated: why would you consider someone who previously resigned for an alternative role and employer?

Things are certainly changing, with the average employee expected to work for ten+ employers in their career, leaving a job is becoming more common – it is the norm, especially due to the financial turmoil companies recently experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis which added to employee uncertainty.

With the current talent shortage, if you found yourself with a good former staff member who wishes to return – known as a “boomerang” employee – it is increasingly common to rehire them.

Evi Farkas, a Consultant at Redline, cites many benefits: “It’s natural for companies to look for employees with a known track record. Returnees often come back with greater life experiences, more skills, they’re a reduced cost to hire – because they’re known quantities – and because they know the business, they can hit the ground running.” They may also bring useful insider knowledge of competitors if they have worked for one.

Your boomerang employee will require little or minimal initial training. It is easy to assume they might stay for longer – given that they knew what they were getting into before they rejoined – and that they may have learned new skills, knowledge, and maturity during their time away that they can now contribute to the company.

Boomerang employees can improve department retention efforts by attesting to improvements made since they left and letting others who may be thinking about leaving know that the grass is not always greener.

We can all cite examples where this has worked or failed, Steve Jobs left Apple, a company he co-founded, and then returned following the acquisition of his new company to take the organisation to new heights, but Jose Mourinho worked for Chelsea football club on multiple occasions before being fired.

With boomeranging on the rise, do these assumptions match up to the facts? The Harvard Business Review gathered some hard data on boomerang employees, focusing on two research questions:

  1. Does employees’ job performance improve, decline, or stay the same when they return to their old employer?
  2. How do the performance and turnover of rehired employees compare to those of externally hired and internally promoted employees?

They analysed eight years of data on over 30,000 workers who were rehired, externally hired, or internally promoted into management positions at a retail company. The data included length of tenure, reasons for leaving, and annual appraisal ratings of their competencies, job responsibilities, and accomplishment of goals. Here is what the research found.

  • While all three perform similarly for the first year, internal and external hires outperform boomerang employees after a year in the job.
  • Boomerang employees tend to perform at the same level and leave for the same reasons the second time as they did the first time. That includes those who were terminated for poor performance.
  • Boomerang employees have a higher rate of turnover than internal or external hires – more than twice that of internal hires.

However, there are upsides. A boomerang employee who performed well the first time is a less risky hire than an unknown quantity. Boomerang employees who left for positive or neutral reasons outperform both internal and external hires in their first months in the role, supporting the idea that they need less onboarding to get up to speed.

The upshot of this is that boomerang employees are likely to be the same as ever. So, if their performance was good last time, you’re looking for a low-risk hire who’ll get up to speed quickly, and you’re not too worried about turnover, feel free to rehire them. If they struggled last time, it is better for the company and ultimately for them if you say no to a second chance.

“A person early on in their career is likely to be a completely different individual than when they are mid-career, and same with the employer. An early-stage startup is a very different environment than a more established company,” says Evi, so in the end, if you’re thinking of rehiring a former employer, there’s one thing you absolutely both need to do: your homework.

Redline Group have provided exceptional professional talent for the European high technology industries since 1982. Our team includes engineers and recruitment professionals with many years’ experience in technology and engineering recruitment, meaning we are able to provide the knowledge-led approach, contacts and advice you need.  

For more information regarding how we can help your business grow, contact Redline Group on 01582 450054 or email info@RedlineGroup.com