Boomerang Hiring: Who says you can’t go home?

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Bon Jovi recently raised a valid question to any of us who’ve ever left a company that felt like a second family; “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”?

For most people working a 40-hour work week, and getting 8 hours of sleep per night, you’ll spend about 35% of your time awake at your place of work. When you work for a company that treats you well, and you enjoy your co-workers, many of you may consider it your 2nd home. So, when you leave that home to “upgrade”, “move on up” (like the Jefferson’s) or whatever your next career step is, sometimes it feels like leaving home.

Back to Bon Jovi and his wisdom. Who says you can’t go home?

While not every employee that leaves your company is one that will want to come back, or should come back if they were interested, those that do explore that option have been given a fancy new-ish label: Boomerang Employees. Sometimes, that Boomerang comes right back to you, and other times there’s a longer delay between when they initially left and when they reach out about a return (sorry for calling you a wooden object, I don’t mean for it to sound impersonal). Maybe things changed with them, maybe where they went to wasn’t as great as it sounded, or other factors have them looking. But the fact that they consider your company after having chosen to leave, likely speaks volumes about you in a good way.

Another piece of wisdom: “The grass is greener where you water it” – Neil Barringham

Imagine a company, where there is zero attrition. Everyone that works there is happy, no one ever leaves, or wonders what else is out there. Sounds pretty unrealistic. Consider that even at the largest tech giants, where they are flooded with applicants everyday trying to get their foot in the door, that even they have attrition. My point is that attrition happens, and it’s for a variety of reasons.

In situations where someone has left to see if the grass is greener elsewhere, I don’t think anyone blames them for that. At some point though, they stopped watering the grass where they were. Maybe they feel they’ve reached a ceiling in their role. Perhaps there were organization changes that they can’t see where they fit in. Or another company reached out to them just at the right time, maybe coinciding with another factor that makes them stop focusing on their grass and looking at the grass elsewhere.

So people leave, and most don’t come back. But for that small percentage that do, what was it about their initial experience that made them think about you? It’s interesting, and probably different for everyone. Consider the case of a professional athlete; usually they start with a team either by being drafted, or they sign a fixed term contract to play with team XYZ. After that, they’re a “free agent”. But you see lots of cases where they have a choice of where to go, especially the very talented players, and they choose to return to team XYZ. You even see it when they left for, or were traded to, team ABC, and end up back with XYZ. They chose to go back there.

Now, technically we’re all free agents, and we probably have even more options of where to take our talents than a professional athlete. And still, a previous employee chooses to come back “home”.

So, what is there to lose? They’re familiar with the company, the people, the work, and they can probably ramp up faster than a new hire without that knowledge. Those are some of the pros to Boomerang hires for sure. But what if your company has evolved since they left, or not, and what they would be coming back to isn’t what they remember. Considering a Boomerang should never be a decision without assessing if you’re still right for each other. One positive to note though, is that someone considering a return probably knows the right questions to ask because of how familiar they are with your company. Specifically, what is different, and how? “Do you still do that thing that drove me nuts, or have you made changes?” Those are good questions to watch out for to determine if they’re looking for a comfortable situation, or the right one for them at that time in their career.

I asked some of our Boomerang’s why they came back to D2L. Some had been gone for a couple of years, some for only a couple of months. Here’s what they had to say:

“After I left D2L, I really missed the sense of internal community. Everyone being willing to help each other out, and not just in my own team. When I talked to other companies, they didn’t sell me on that aspect of their company. Being back at D2L, I can see the effort that everyone puts in to make it a great company to work for.” – Sales

“I felt wanted. Interviews rarely make you feel wanted, so when I was told that I was missed at D2L, it reminded me of a ton of people I missed and who made me better at my job. While I was gone, the company evolved, and that change was both important and significant in me returning.” – Software Dev

“I came back to D2L, quite quickly, because of the people more than anything. After I left, it only took me a few days to realize that I’d left a good company, with great people. They told me genuinely the door was always open for a return, and I confirmed that was not just something that people ‘say’.” – Sales

“I enjoyed my time at D2L, a return was never off the table for me. Making a change was fun, but also gave me a different appreciation of what to expect from work. Coming back here, I work on a high performing team with tech that feels more cutting edge than when I left.” – Software Dev

“It was a really hard decision to leave D2L. I was leaving behind some cool projects, a funky workspace and some great people. As soon as I started work at the new place, it felt like I left some loose ends behind. What prompted me to explore a return was working for a company with purpose. One that was solving really cool problems, with a great tech stack and where I could work with awesome people and friends.” – Dev Manager

At the end of the day, there are very few companies that will have employees work their entire lifetime with them, it just doesn’t happen the way it did for your parents or grandparents. So, people will leave, but how you treat them while they work for you, and how they’re treated when they do leave, will impact your opportunity for reunion in the future. I’m not suggesting that you should stop your recruitment campaigns, eliminate your LinkedIn Recruiter account, or anything wild like that, to focus on your previous employees. But by considering them to be a part of your talent acquisition strategy in addition to the areas that you focus on right now, may save you some time and money for your next hire.

Have you used Boomerang’s as part of your talent strategy? What have you seen work, and sometimes not work, when considering a previous employee? Are there key things that I’ve missed that you would want to add, or maybe you don’t agree? Feel free to leave a note below.

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