Home coming: rehiring former employees who left in good standing is a great way to keep your labor pool strong and recruitment costs low

Home coming: rehiring former employees who left in good standing is a great way to keep your labor pool strong and recruitment costs low

Rhonda J. Wilson

In today’s volatile labor market, employees are a valuable commodity–even ex-employees.

Rehiring former employees, or “boomerangs” as they are called, can save companies thousands of dollars in retraining costs, according to experts.

“It allows an employer to recoup the investment originally made in that employee,” says Kristin L. Bowl, director of public affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

“Employers spend a lot of money training employees for a particular skill, organizational culture and knowledge, and product familiarity,” Bowl adds. “If you found one of your company’s prized assets sitting at your front door several months later, wouldn’t you seize the opportunity?”

In recent years, the cost of training a new hire has gone up significantly. Total training expenditures increased on a per-employee basis ($677 in 1999 to $704 in 2000) and as a percentage of annual payroll (1.8 percent in 1999 to 2 percent in 2000), according to a recently released annual review of trends in employer-provided training in the United States conducted by the American Society for Training & Development in Alexandria, Va.

In addition, companies that made a dedicated commitment to developing the knowledge, skills and abilities of their workers spent an average of more than $1,500 on training per employee. That’s more than double what the average company spent, noted the report.

While some companies feel betrayed when a person leaves, experts estimate about 60 percent of small and large businesses realize the value in hiring boomerang employees.

That’s partly because these employees seem to put a lot more thought into accepting a job offer the second time around. “Making the choice to return is not an easy one,” says Wayne Luke, area managing partner at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles Inc. in Atlanta. “Typically, it involves a bit of ego-swallowing.

“So once the decision is made to return, it is a well thought out and deliberate one that represents strong buy-in by the returning employee,” he adds. “Once a boomerang employee is in place, the likelihood of them deciding to leave in the future becomes significantly diminished.”

In addition, such individuals often return to former jobs with more enthusiasm. “I think they feel more valued,” says Tom Ferrara, vice president of sales at CareerEngine in New York, which builds recruiting software and Web sites for executive search firms and corporations. “They are often more productive because they are grateful to be back.”

For this reason, boomerang employees also can be a big morale booster for your company. The stories they share with other employees can help minimize costly turnovers.

“They are great cheerleaders for your company,” says Joyce L. Gioia, president of The Herman Group in Greensboro, N. C. and co-author of Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People (Oakhill Press, November 2002). “They know the grass isn’t greener and will tell others.

“They are generally happy to be back,” Gioia adds. “And that joy is contagious.”

Rehires resented

Still, there are a couple of drawbacks to rehiring people. For example, existing workers may resent them. Worse, they may feel that finding a temporary job elsewhere is the only, or best, way to advance in the company, especially if returning employees get promotions, raises or preferential treatment.

“For those who are loyal and see the returning employee, their first reaction can be suspicion and jealousy,” Luke says.

“However, if you position the returning employee’s skills and new position strategically, [the others] will come to realize that your job is to bring in the best talent possible.

“If that requires welcoming someone back, it means that you, as a manager, have the objectivity and backbone to do the right thing in the context of the business,” he adds. “And you will not let anything petty stand in the way.”

Gioia agrees. “Companies must also be careful, when they bring back workers, that the loyal employees understand the efficacy of the business decision,” she points out.

Some employers make it a point to bring in boomerang employees at a lower job level. This usually eliminates any hard feelings that may surface with existing employees.

Another drawback to bringing back former workers occurs when employers rehire them without careful thought, or out of desperation.

Benefits and seniority also need to be worked out. Some companies prefer to reinstate seniority. However, Gioia suggests implementing some type of forfeiture, such as losing an end-of-the-year bonus. “We advise that there be some small penalty for having left,” says Gioia. “It doesn’t have to be substantive, just symbolic.”

10 ways to stay connected with former employees

Don’t burn bridges with valued workers who leave your company. They may have the potential to become boomerang employees.

Instead, maintain contact with them on an ongoing basis. “We treat our ex-employees like college alumni,” says Tom Ferrara, vice president of sales at CareerEngine in New York. “It’s important to stay in touch for networking purposes alone, especially if they are in the same industry.”

Here’s a list of ways to reach out to departed workers:

1. Add former employees to mailing or e-mail distribution lists, to keep them regularly updated about company news.

2. Invite former employees to company picnics or extracurricular events.

3. For larger companies, consider forming alumni associations and events.

4. Conduct follow-up exit interviews around three to six months after an employee leaves the company. Emphasize the employee’s strengths and that the door is always open if they decide to return.

5. Start a newsletter to update current and departed employees about new developments in the company.

6. If an employee is leaving to pursue retirement, a consulting career or self-employment, keep them posted about part-time opportunities that become available.

7. Encourage departing workers to stop by and visit their former colleagues after they leave. Personal communication enhances reconnection.

8. When new job opportunities emerge in other departments, ask former employees if they know anyone interested in filling the position. People tend to like working for companies where friends or colleagues are already in place.

9. Begin an outreach program dedicated to ex-employees. Make it a point to call or go out to lunch with departed workers on a quarterly or biannual basis.

10. Implement policies stating that departed employees may return without severe repercussions.–R.J.W.

10 reasons to add a boomerang employee to the ranks

1. They already have established relationships with you and your staff, so they tend to be more productive in a shorter period of time.

2. Loyal customers like to deal with employees they know and with whom they’ve had a former positive relationship.

3. They are known quantities. Therefore, you can depend on them.

4. They make ideal employee profiles for your newsletter.

5. You save on recruiting costs because you don’t have to pay headhunter or employment agency fees.

6. They may have picked up some competitive intelligence at the other company in which they went to work.

7. Their “grass isn’t greener” stories will discourage others from leaving.

8. They save your company on costly training expenses.

9. They return with a fresh perspective that comes from having seen another situation at a different company.

10. They know how things work and how to get them done, so they can hit the ground running.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group