Pros & Cons of Becoming or Rehiring ‘Boomerang’ Employees

As labor gets tighter in the custom electronics industry, the likelihood of hiring a former employee increases for integrators. Meanwhile, many ex-employees want to come back. What should you be on the lookout for?


“Don’t let the door hit your butt on the way…Oh, hey there, great to see ya again. Welcome back. You know where the coffee is.”

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers did it. It’s been nearly two seasons since LeBron returned to his native northern Ohio roots after four seasons/two NBA championships with the Miami Heat. That decision to go to South Beach came after six seasons/zero championships with the Cavs.

When LeBron left Ohio some fans literally cried, others angrily protested — going so far as burning him in effigy along with his number 23 uniforms and other King James' memorabilia. It was ugly.

Now, if you leave XYZ Custom to go to work for ABC Security & Custom, it’s highly unlikely that XYZ’s owner and employees are going to ritualistically burn your company polo shirt in the parking lot after you leave. (By the way, if they did, you can stop reading now.) That said, XYZ’s owner might nevertheless hold a grudge if you’ve been a jerk or left under any sort of cloud.

So don’t do that.

It’s never wise to burn a bridge you may someday want to cross again. And if recent Human Resource (HR) studies are correct, the odds you will want to “boomerang” back to a former employer are higher than they’ve ever been. Anecdotal evidence in the custom electronics industry supports the existence of the boomerang effect. We all have seen it, especially at the supplier level.

According to a study from Accountemps, it’s evident that this phenomenon is becoming more prevalent:

  • 98 percent of HR managers would rehire an ex-employee
  • Only 48 percent of former workers would rejoin their previous employer
  • The No. 1 reason a past employee would never consider rejoining his previous company is dislike of management. Poor company culture and dislike of job duties are next reasons.
  • 10 percent of employee say they “burned bridges” when they left a company

Likewise, as this boomerang situation gains momentum, any employer would be wise not to kick the ladder out from under a competent and well-regarded employee. This is most true if the employee left on good terms for what appeared to be a better or even once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with another company—direct competitor or not.

Ex-Employee Point of View 

Writing an article on this subject for Forbes,  journalist Kerry Hannon whose expertise is all matters HR, states “If you’re like most people, when you part ways with an employer, your instinct is to brush your hands together, move on and don’t look back. But hold your horses. Sometimes circling back can be a win for everyone.”

Hannon goes on to discuss just why becoming a boomerang employee makes a lot of sense. “It’s knowing what you’re getting into, removing the fear of the unknown. It’s also an easier training ramp up than if you’re a brand new employee. And, on some level, the employer has less worries about your chances of success if you’ve already passed muster the first time around.”

Much of the buzz about “Boomerangers” (my term) came to the forefront when David Almeda (the chief “people officer” for Kronos,  a multi-national workforce management services company) and Dan Schawbel (a career guidance expert for and New York Times best-selling author) released a study late last year entitled “The Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employees.” 

In the Forbes article, the duo cites “a changing mindset about boomerang employees who have a better chance now than ever of getting into the company where they formerly worked. Maybe their original job wasn’t a good fit. Something new likely opened up since they’ve been gone that’s a better position for their current skills.”

If you have left a company but just maybe wish you hadn’t, the HR pros have some suggestions to consider that may make it easier to rejoin your old haunt:

Strive for impeccable performance reviews. Writing for U.S. News & World Report, Vicki Salemi, a career expert for (the job people not Noel Lee’s people), warns that if a re-applying ex-employee has the words “needs improvement” in any review that ex-employee will most likely remain an ex-employee.

Hook up with former company alumni groups on Facebook, Linked In and everywhere else. Forbes’ Hannon reminds us not to forget to remark about posts from others and contribute more than a few original yet appropriate comments. This will show that you are aware and that you care.

Stay alert for ex-employer job postings. “Step on up,” says Almeda in the US News & World Report piece. “Don’t shy away from reaching out to a former manager, or someone you know at your ex’s place, if there’s a position that catches your eye.”

Contact good friends inside your ex-company whom you’d trust to recommend you. Current employee referrals are a key pathway back in the door of your old gig. According to CareerBuilder, a whopping 82 percent of employers rate employee referrals above all other sources for generating the best return on investment above all other sources.  

Network like there's no tomorrow. This goes without saying in all aspects of life today, right? 

Make a dignified exit. As we discussed at the start, try your very best to never burn a bridge. If you’ve left a firm on favorable terms, there's nothing that should stop you from checking back with that firm. None of the preceding suggestions will matter a lick if the powers that be don’t want you back.{pagebreak}

Employer Point of View

Flipping around to the other side of the desk, boomerang employees can be a big help for your business. Given the cries that finding good workers is at the top of integrator owner’s most dire issues, this might be a no-brainer.

According to Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps, the process of potentially rehiring an ex-employee actually begins when that employee first gives his/her intention to leave. Driscoll suggests employers take these steps:

Conduct exit interviews.  Get feedback from employees who resign and act on the information if it improves the work environment. Don’t take their comments personally.

Part ways professionally.  Avoid shunning those who've given notice. If they are leaving on good terms, treat them as members of the team until they walk out the door for the last time. Have that Friday afternoon going-away party and attend it.

Communicate intentions.  If you think you'd like to rehire exiting employees, let them know they'd be welcomed back. Sometimes the grass isn't greener somewhere else, and they might jump at the chance to return.

Stay in touch.  Keep in contact with former employees who were top performers. You never know when their situation might change and they'll be in the market for a new job. The Kronos report highly recommends that employers design alumni groups for social media like Facebook and LinkedIn. Don’t leave that task to a nostalgic former employee.

Why Do Employees Leave?

It’s also important to understand why an employee is leaving. This can go a long way as to ascertaining if that employee is a good risk to rehire. Generally, workers who succeed in getting rehired fall into one of these four categories according to a consensus of HR professionals:

Someone who left for reasons entirely unrelated to work. This could include an employee who had to care for a seriously ill family member or relocated with a spouse who's the primary breadwinner.

Someone who left to take a higher level position. Perhaps that wasn't an option at your company at the time due of a lack of either a skill set or opportunity. Later, these workers may return with added skills and experience to apply and qualify for openings. 

Someone who leaves for a seemingly great opportunity that proves to be much less that great. In the wake of that disappointment, this former employee may contact you with the hope of getting her/his old job back.

Someone whose job starts and stops based on your company’s seasonal demand for his/her services. Now you feel they’re ready for prime time.

Key Questions to Ask When Re-hiring

Even if the potential re-hire comfortably fits into one of more of the above categories, the HR pros remind employers that every hiring decision should be made with caution. Rehiring may require even a little extra thought, even if the candidate was a rock star who you hated to lose. Ask yourself questions such as:

Is this person really the best one for the job? If you had a positive experience with a worker, it might be easy and comfortable to just bring back a familiar face. But don't let that comfort level get in the way of making a truly objective hiring decision.

Why does the ex-employee want to leave the new job? Suppose a worker left your organization because, though he/she saw himself/herself as a high performer, a direct supervisor rated them as mediocre and you compensated them accordingly. But, at the new job, their performance ratings were even worse and they realized they were better off with you. Is this someone you truly want back?

What has the employee learned since leaving you? Ideally, former employees have gained new experience and skills that make them more valuable to you the second time around. If, however, an employee has just been treading water at a like job, you might want to think twice about rehiring him/her.

Is this the right opportunity for the employee? Try to consider this from the former employee's point of view.  If this rehire is just a lateral move with limited opportunities to advance, can you reasonably expect him/her to stay with you for a significant period this time around? Remember the individual's willingness to leave your firm in the first place.

What will existing staff members think? Rehiring a former employee, especially if it's at a higher level than her/his former position, might be bad for morale. Other employees may believe they were passed over for promotion in favor of someone who's already shown a lack of loyalty. That could create issues for all.

It’s clear there’s a lot to toss around before becoming and/or rehiring a boomerang employee. This is especially true given both the good employee drought and recent integration firm roll-ups. While you should no doubt take in the advice of experts in either decision, I suggest all of you follow your gut and give this idea a shot if the circumstances warrant and the planets are aligned.

No one serves cake at a polo shirt-burning party.

About the Author

Chuck Schneider
Chuck Schneider:

Chuck Schneider is a freelance writer with a long history in consumer electronics. He started and restarted his award-winning manufacturer’s representative firm - Value Added Marketing - and was also a vice president and general merchandise manager for a multi-regional CE chain, as well as a buyer for Lechmere's (a division of Target). Today, he is a freelance writer.