Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home

Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home

Every manager at every level has experienced it — that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when one of your valued team members walks in and resigns. With today’s “Great Resignation” continuing full force, chances are you’ve experienced that feeling more than once recently.

But have you also felt the polar opposite? I have. It’s that sheer joy and delight when a former team member reaches out and wants to come back. Perhaps it was unkept promises or unmet expectations that made them realize the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Whatever the reason, the chance to welcome a valued team member back “home” should always be celebrated in any company that values its people and its culture.

With the pandemic on the downturn (hopefully) and people and companies adjusting to a new hybrid work world, this trend of “boomerang employees” is growing across the nation. Data from Workhuman shows that boomerangs accounted for 4.5% of all new hires among companies using their platform on LinkedIn in 2021, up from 3.9% over the same time period in 2019. In fact, LinkedIn itself hired twice as many former employees as it did in 2019.

Following is a list of bullet points to help your company prepare for and, more importantly, realize all the benefits of welcoming back those who you were so sad to see leave. Let’s start with what to do when they walk into your office to resign.

  • If a counteroffer doesn’t sway them to stay, sincerely wish them the best. Remember how valuable they’ve been to your company and that everyone must follow their own life journey. This is not a time to burn bridges.
  • Ask them if would be OK to check in with them every few months to see how things are going. Let them know that they’ll always be welcomed if they ever want to come back. This is extremely import and it works! Case in point: Two of our most valued team members left our agency early in their careers, only to return after we kept the lines of communication open. Today, they’re our president and chief sales officer respectively.
  • Be sure to use the exit interview to understand the specific reasons why they’re leaving. Is this an opportunity for them to grow in their career? Is it an opportunity they didn’t feel was available to them in their current position? Were there certain conflicts or other concerns? What you find out will not only be helpful if the individual ever returns, but it will help you improve your company for team members who stay.

So now you get the call. A valued ex-team member wants to return. It’s not as simple as putting their nameplate back on an office door. There are dos and don’ts to be aware of.

  • Don’t take onboarding for granted. While it may be easier to onboard a former team member, chances are a few things have changed in the workplace since they left.
  • Do treat them like a new employee when it comes to those changes. They can’t be expected to understand new policies and procedures simply through osmosis.
  • Don’t compromise or change a job description just because you want to rehire a “known” person.
  • Do make coworkers aware of any valid change in title or position for the returning person. Will former peers now report to them? Being open and honest will help make the return easier for all involved.
  • Don’t overlook any previous tension or grudges between the returning person and current team members. Resentment in any form can only add poison to your culture.
  • Do be clear about expectations and take time to catch them up on all the things that have changed since they left.
  • Don’t worry that because they left once, they’re more likely to leave again. This will only create an unconscious stigma toward them. Rather, focus on what will keep them engaged for the long run.
  • Do help them feel welcomed back. Chances are they may feel embarrassed about their decision to leave. Make sure they know you see their return as a win-win situation.

From personal experience, I can tell you that “boomerang employees” bring with them a wealth of renewed energy and benefits.

  • Reaching out to ex-team members can be the most cost-effective recruiting method to build (or rebuild) your team, especially in today’s competitive employment marketplace.
  • Boomerangs tend to be faster and easier to onboard, despite how many things may have changed since they left.
  • Boomerangs often bring with them improved and expanded skills, leading to higher performance.
  • They know your company, your culture and how things work. Little things that can add up to big advantages.
  • Many times, they’ve gained industry insights and competitive intel that can prove invaluable.
  • Seeing former team members return can energize coworkers and reduce fear of missing out on all the often-empty promises of the “Great Resignation.” People are more likely to stay with your company when they see others happily return.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of all — from a manager’s viewpoint — can be found in that last bullet. Because no matter what kind of leader you are, we’re all human. It hurts when people leave us. But it certainly feels fantastic when they return with more passion, more talent and more dedication than ever before!

Lauren Dixon is board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co., a marketing communications firm, which has  been honored as a Best Place to Work.