Just a few
years ago, using the axiom “time heals all wounds” and boomerang worker in the same sentence
would seem so…contradictory. Today, many employees who have left a
company to pursue opportunity elsewhere have shed the label “traitor”
and have been ordained corporate “alumni.”
This shift in
attitude has thrown a wrench into the recruiting mindset of many older
managers. For Veterans (born before 1946) and Baby Boomers (1946–1964)
the very notion of re-hiring an employee who quit their job for greener
pastures was at best considered disloyal. Voluntarily leaving a
good-paying steady job placed a permanent blemish on a resume and
tattooed the employee as a job-hopper, a fate worse than death in the
minds of a hiring manager. Even women who left the workforce to give
birth to or raise a child were deemed unfit to rehire. “What would stop
them from doing it again?” asked managers.
But that was then
and this is now. It is way past the time when the Machiavellian temptation
to prove a point is a rational approach to hiring and managing talent. The world
has changed. The number of employees who remain loyal to a single
organization throughout their lifetimes and vice verse is shrinking. Job
hopping has been transformed from a character flaw to a career plan.
Life-long employment died with Generation X. The free-agent generation
changed everything. Building a portable career became more important
than getting a gold watch at retirement. And Generation Y took job
hopping one step further. If job hopping became a norm for Gen X, then
career hopping will be the vehicle for Generation Y to build what they
are defining as parallel careers.
But hiring a
boomerang worker isn’t only about managing a multi-generation workforce.
Hiring a boomerang employee has one of the highest returns on
recruiting investment an employer can ask for. The cost to re-hire a
boomerang employee has been reported to be one-third to two-third the cost of
hiring a “virgin” employee. Little time or effort must be invested in
getting to know the candidate. Boomerangs can be valuable to an
organization because they understand the culture. They have a history
with the business, but bring a fresh perspective from the outside.
During their absence, there is a good chance that boomerangs have
learned new skills and strategies, achieving success in a different
setting. (If they haven’t been successful, why bring them back?) They
likely have made new connections and expanded their network.
boomerang employees shouldn’t be the strategy of choice because it’s
cheap and easy. The decision to re-hire an employee should be based on
good job fit — that the employee has the right skills for the right job.
Not every employee who voluntarily quit or was “dislocated” is a good
candidate for re-hire. If anyone was fired or forced out, they should
not be on the priority list, unless of course the person or persons who
forced them out turned out to be the cause of the problem and not the
employees, you should just count your blessings they’re gone. In
addition, managers should not assume that just because someone doesn’t
leave an organization that they are loyal. It could simply mean they
don’t have any place to go!
It is illogical to
assume in an era where specific skills are increasingly scarce that
separation from an organization has anything to do with loyalty.
Individuals with the most valuable skills are constantly offered
opportunities, and should a valued employee accept one, it is as much
the manager’s fault for failing to retain the employee as it is the
employee’s fault for taking advantage of market conditions. Besides, the
shift from long-term employment to project work fits the lifestyle of
highly skilled Generation X and Generation Y who demand flexible work
arrangements and growth opportunities.
re-hiring of a boomerang employee also doesn’t stop with the extension
and acceptance of a job offer. Hiring boomerangs can be a bit political.
The re-integration of a boomerang is a path fraught with landmines. The
players might have changed between the time that the employee left and
returned. Interpersonal relationships might have changed too. And
dynamics might be tense if the boomerang leapfrogged over an incumbent
employee, who might have felt he or she deserved a crack at the job.
managers need to get over their heartbreak and pride when it comes to
re-hiring employees. Rehiring former employees who have the skills you
need is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business.