Why ‘boomerang employees’ may be a valuable source of talent

Proceed with caution.

That’s the key message of a research report that will be published in the Journal of Management next year about “boomerang employees,” or workers who were rehired by a former employee, an issue that could soon gain traction as workers sidelined by the pandemic seek to return to the workforce.

The four authors of Welcome Back? Job Performance and Turnover of Boomerang Employees Compared to Internal and External Hires gathered data between 2000 and 2010 on more than 30,000 employees of a large retail organization who were initially hired or rehired into a management trainee position. The data was analyzed to compare the performance and turnover of internal and external hires to boomerang employees.

“Most interesting was the fact that the performance of boomerang employees was best predicted by their previous performance,” says Michael A. Campion, professor of management at Purdue University and one of the paper’s authors. “Don’t expect them to be greatly different. They performed at comparable levels. If someone was an average employee before they left, they’ll be an average employee again.”

New hires and internal employees outperformed boomerangs after the first year on the job. Campion suspects that boomerangs may have been at a flatter point in their career compared to the others who were on a career trajectory or promised advancement opportunities if they climbed on board.

Likewise, boomerang employees were more likely to leave the organization for the same reason they did in the past. Find out why before they do, Campion says. Their rationale or judgment matters. Maybe they were at odds with your workplace culture, people or business practices. Were they laid off? Did they quit to raise a family, pursue an advanced degree or gain additional experience?

The pandemic is forcing many employees out of the workplace due to childcare needs. According to the National Women’s Law Center, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force between August and September, more than four times the number of men who left the workforce. In the coming years, they may join the ranks of boomerang employees.

See also: Employees quitting over childcare needs

Campion says perceptions of boomerangs vary greatly across companies. To some, they’re disloyal. In such cases, Campion asks talent leaders to question whether the company has been loyal to them. And for others, particularly those in the IT space, job-hopping is normal and practically expected, since many circle back.

“We have trained employees not to be loyal,” Campion says, citing layoffs and downsizing. “Don’t view boomerangs negatively. The expectation is that they’ll probably be about the same people as they were before. That may not be a bad thing. You’re getting a known commodity.”

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