Are you ready to catch the boomerang?

impact sourcing skills development

Boomerang rehires are on the rise as the skills shortage starts to bite. The key is retaining the employees when they return.

No one would argue that the world of work has changed, quite possibly forever. This is not to reiterate tired cliches such as “the new normal”, but rather to accept that the pandemic has radically shifted how people perceive balance and job satisfaction, while technological leaps have enabled businesses to embrace remote and hybrid working, effectively making geography less important than culture.

Those who manage and interact with the people who make businesses tick understand that we are in a global talent tsunami, where skilled people are leaving employment in record numbers. This is compounded in South Africa where the existing skills shortage is exacerbated by the so-called brain drain, making the retention of staff one of the most important strategic imperatives for all employers.

There’s another human resources trend that’s certainly not new, but definitely gaining momentum. Boomerang rehires are when talent leaves a company and then rejoins at a later stage. This can be as soon as a few weeks or months or after a year or more. Managed correctly, boomerang rehires offer people managers and companies a unique opportunity to cope with the skills tsunami and crippling skills shortage in the country while enjoying the benefits of lower operational costs.

Of course, it is a fine line. One cannot implement perpetual revolving doors lest teams never get the opportunity to settle, staff never fully onboard and customers don’t derive the value they deserve. On the other hand, there is a concern in many quarters about the “job-hopping” phenomenon which, ultimately, costs companies a lot of time and money.

Before we look a little deeper at boomerang hires and how they can benefit a business, its company culture and performance, let’s try to gain an understanding of just how prevalent the concept is becoming around the world.

A study by Workplace Trends called The Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employee Study found that 15% of employees have “boomeranged” back to a former employer, 76% of HR professionals said they were more open to the idea than before, 56% of HR professionals and 51% of managers said they give high priority to boomerang job applicants and around a third of HR professionals and managers agree that being familiar with the company culture and the need for less training and onboarding was among the concept’s biggest benefits.

A recent Wall Street Journal article shared fascinating insights from LinkedIn: “LinkedIn data shows that boomerang workers have increased across the companies on its platform this year, with tens of thousands more people returning to old employers.”

It further states: “LinkedIn has embraced its own boomerangs this year, with the site doubling the number of new hires who were also former employees compared with 2019.”

The next, obvious, question is “why”? Why do these staff leave, only to return. There is no single answer to this question but there certainly are a few trends. First, we must delineate between employees that leave on bad terms – for whatever reason – and those that depart on good terms, leaving the company poorer for their exit.

The latter group often cites wanting to grow or spread their wings. Sometimes it may be more money, but most often it is to do with career advancement, broadening their horizons and seeing what the grass on the other side looks and feels like. In a company like Altron Karabina, where our people managers develop meaningful relationships with all staff, these discussions are often had in advance of the move.

Perhaps an example would best demonstrate this. Altron Karabina brought on an intern some time ago, who embraced the company culture and gave his all to his job. He grew into a competent junior consultant, a real asset to the company and his team. In his discussions with his people manager, he indicated that he was only 28 years old and that he felt he needed to explore the world and spread his wings.

As sad as this was, people managers at Altron Karabina are grounded in psychology and therefore love people, and so we asked, “Who are we to stand in the way of a young, talented person?” We conducted the exit interview and let him know that we would remain in contact and would always be here to resume discussions if he chose to come home to his tribe, and his family.

Within a week he made contact, concerned he’d made a mistake. Like before, our people manager encouraged him to keep an open mind and embrace his new role and team. Within a month it had become evident to him that his new employer had reneged on a promise and that he would be working on technology that was generations behind what he’d left behind.

After his time away, and after he was sure he saw no growth, he said he wanted to return. He did not have to go through extensive onboarding and training. He did not need to attend culture workshops and be educated about the company’s values. Compared to a new hire, his onboarding was fast and efficient. Today he is a happy, productive and valued team member at Altron Karabina.

The most important and immediate consideration when considering a boomerang rehire is to sit down with the applicant and define their reasons for leaving – which, if conducted properly, would have been made clear in the exit interview process. Upon the reapplication, it is prudent that the applicant and the company work out the expectations from both sides to safeguard against it happening again. What is different this time around? Why did they return?

On the other hand, it may well be tempting to rehire someone that you already know and this eagerness to pursue the known, and enjoy the cost and time savings from an onboarding perspective, may blind you to new talent with exceptional skills.

The return in itself signals faith in the company on the part of the employee, and the company needs to have faith that the employee has his or her needs met the second time around. Like we do at Altron Karabina, it is crucial that trends picked up in exit interviews are addressed. There should be careful follow-ups during the probation period if that is reinstated or within the first few weeks and months of the rehire. This is to ensure that team dynamics, reporting lines, and general happiness are aligned with everyone’s expectations.

Once an employee has had the opportunity to see that the grass is not greener on the other side they are more likely to become engaged employees that grow with the company. In other words, they’ve already given in to the temptation of a promise and experienced that first-hand, compared to the family they know well.

Obviously, the core objective should be staff retention and not the process of rehiring someone who has resigned. Here, business unit leads, line managers and people managers have an important role to play. Behaviour changes, particularly with their immediate team members but also with the company in general, can signal a change in the employee’s attitude and passion. In short, it can signal whether someone wants to be where they are and empowers a business to stay ahead of the curve.

On the other hand, we must be realistic and appreciate that in our environment of acute skills shortages, employees will be approached and possibly poached. Our approach has always been to remain on good terms with former employees, and for our people managers to welcome continued engagement. After all, they have been trusted sounding boards for a long time and have authentic relationships with employees. We keep the communication channels open and let them know that should they ever be unhappy, they know where to find their family.

Once they return, we ensure that the reasons for their departure are addressed. If they need to grow as an employee, we encourage and facilitate it. If we need to grow and adjust as an employer, we facilitate it. We ensure that their career plan is mapped out and that they can see their future within our organisation.

Managed carefully, and with the requisite planning and foresight, a boomerang rehire certainly does have advantages for a business. However, without a clear understanding of why the employee left and what has or hasn’t changed with their expectations, they present a risk to the stability of teams who may be unsettled by the revolving door. As always, it starts with authentic employee engagement driven by people who love people.

By Diane van Zyl, Senior People Manager, Altron Karabina.

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