When ‘boomerang’ employees seek to return, should employers take them back?

workplace office drama

“I’ve learned my lesson and I’d like to come back.”

One by one, “boomerang” employees are returning to employers in Anchorage and throughout the nation. Each employee has a story. Said one: “I’d always wanted to start my own business. Now that I tried it, I’ve learned it’s not for me.” Said another: “I wasn’t looking for a job. An employer sought me out, offered me a signing bonus and made other promises. But once I started there, none of those promises panned out.”

If you’re an employer, should you rehire an employee who wants to return? Here are the reasons you should, the reasons you shouldn’t and the precautions you need to take. If you’re an employer with hard-to-fill vacancies and want to inspire former employees to return, here’s how to make that happen.

Reasons to rehire

Recruiting new hires takes effort and money, particularly amid today’s talent shortage, with 11.5 million job openings competing for 6 million unemployed people. When former employees apply, it shaves an employer’s recruiting costs and expedites the hiring timeline.

Once hired, boomerangs quickly ramp up to speed, particularly if they return to former or similar job duties. When boomerang employees feel happy to have returned, they may convince coworkers who are thinking of leaving to stay.

Reasons not to rehire

Boomerang employees often pose a flight risk. They left your employ before and may be returning because they didn’t land in the right job. They may see you as a safe, temporary employer that can pay them while they continue the search for a dream employer and position.

Precautions to take

If you’re considering a boomerang employee, don’t skip the hiring interview. Boomerangs often present you a packaged story that sounds good on the surface. Probe beneath the surface. Ask what led them to leave; learning what they perceived as your downsides will help you retain other employees. Ask why they want to return. If it’s simply that their new job didn’t work out, they may continue to seek one that will. Address the reasons they left; if you rehire them, you’ll want them to stay. For example, if a top performer left because of a crushing workload, consider offering her a three-quarter-time job for a competitive salary.

When client employers ask me to interview boomerang applicants, I ask, “What led you to leave?” “When did you start looking?” and “What could each of these two employers have done to keep you?”

Here’s what I’ve found. Many boomerangs don’t take these interviews seriously because they believe their former employees view them as “known quantities.” When I ask unexpected questions that probe beneath the packaged story, they often “shoot from the lip” and disclose crucial information.

For example, when I interviewed “Karen,” I learned she’d spent considerable time starting a life coaching business prior to resigning. She wanted to return because she hadn’t made enough money. “Would you want to try your own business again someday?” I asked. When she said “yes,” her eyes sparkled.

Then there was “Guy.” He’d known for eight months he’d wanted to leave the employer to whom he planned to return. During those eight months, he’d job hunted. Had he ever conducted his job searches during working hours? “Sometimes.” Been interviewed between 9 and 5? “Yes, but only because the other employer required it.” I passed this along to my client, who checked Guy’s time sheets. Guy never took leave time to conduct his personal business.

Don’t skip onboarding your boomerangs. You need to ground them in your expectations, let them know what’s changed, and reintegrate them into the team.

If you plan to raise a boomerang’s salary from what it was when they left, consider raising the salaries of your continuing employees, so you don’t create a “prodigal” employee dynamic. This concretely lets employees who never left know you value their loyalty.

Increasing the return ratio

If you want valued departing employees to return, destigmatize their departure. Let them know they’re welcome to return.

Check in with them regularly. If you provide them information on job openings, they may refer candidates to you or explore those opportunities for themselves.

Finally, create a culture of belonging in your organization. Develop interconnections among your employees; this helps you retain employees who won’t want to leave their teammates. Let employees know their job satisfaction matters to you, as this will help all employees, including your boomerangs, engage. Each former employee is a potential returnee, as well as a future client, customer, referral source or business partner.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Managing for Accountability”; “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.