Your workplace might have a few more familiar faces as the continued Great Resignation wave gives rise to the boomerang employee — a former worker who returns to the company after some time away.
Boomerang employment is a growing trend in general thanks to technology that helps people stay in contact over time, says Brian Swider, a management professor at the University of Florida and an expert on boomerang employees.
Think about it: If you had quit your job 20 to 30 years ago because you were moving to a new city, your manager would take you out of their Rolodex, or they'd lose your landline number once you changed addresses. Now, people have cellphones and LinkedIn profiles to stay connected.
Add in the tight labor market of 2021, where a record number of Americans have quit their jobs through the spring and summer months, and hiring managers are firing up every recruiting tool they have, Swider tells CNBC Make It — including asking ex-employees to come back.
Businesses have a lot of incentives to rehire former employees, especially when they need to fill a lot of vacancies immediately.
First, they save companies time by recruiting alumni who are already familiar with the job, the people and the company overall. Ex-employees also need less time to onboard and get up to speed in their role. They're even easier to "socialize" into the company culture and its people, Swider adds.
An expedited hiring timeline also saves the company a lot of money by cutting down the cost of recruiting, the cost of the job not being filled and the cost of the replacement getting up to speed.
Hiring managers tend to focus on asking high performers to return, because there's less risk of them leaving or not succeeding in the role compared with someone completely new to the organization, says Abbie Shipp, a management professor at Texas Christian University who specializes in employee engagement over time.
And in today's labor crunch, hiring managers want nothing more than a safe bet.
"If you had greater turnover due to the Great Resignation, you're thinking, 'How do I fill this position with great candidates?'" Shipp says. "If there's a known quantity, such as former employees, there's less risk."
Timing matters, too. Managers want to rehire employees who've been away from the company for long enough that they've gained new skills and experiences they can bring back to the organization, Swider says.
But they can't be gone for so long that they don't see the immediate draw of going back to familiar territory. Swider says employers should consider reaching out to people who left the organization six months to a year prior to the pandemic's disruptions to check in and see how people are feeling in their current job.
And given the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, and the pace of change many organizations have gone through, employers might be more willing than usual to bring someone back who quit in the last year, as well.
The act of getting old employees to return can be a big boost to a company's employer brand and can even encourage workers thinking of looking for new opportunities to stay put.
"It's a good signal for an organization to say, 'Even if you left on your own and changed your mind, we're willing to bring people back,'" Swider says.
Of course, employees are more likely to return to a former employer if they left on good terms.
Usually, boomerang employees only left in the first place due to unexpected circumstances, Shipp says, like having to move away, leaving the workforce to start a family or receiving a surprise job offer in something completely new that they couldn't turn down.
It's unlikely an employee will return if they left because they were dissatisfied with the organization or their prior work experience entirely.
But just as the pandemic has compelled many people to reassess their lives and work values, people who changed jobs before and during Covid might realize they miss the experiences and opportunities a former employer provided them. Some workers might be dissatisfied with how a new employer treated employees during the pandemic. Others might have gotten swept up in the Great Resignation, changing jobs a little too quickly, and now regret the decision, Shipp says.
All three scenarios can make the case for returning to a former company all the more appealing. Plus, if the employer is adding a new layer of flexibility, such as the ability to work from anywhere, it can widen the pool of alumni who might be willing to go back.
A boomerang employee might also be in the position to negotiate higher pay or a promotion. After all, a top reason why people change jobs is in order to secure higher pay, and going back to an old job provides the same opportunity to ask for more, Shipp says.
"We find boomerangs are more highly paid than similar-level individuals that have been with the organization continuously," Swider adds. "You often leave for a better offer, and then you're brought back with a better offer."
With the way things are going, the rise of boomerang employees could last for the next five years, Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, who coined the term "Great Resignation," recently told Wired.
Swider agrees: Boomeranging back to an ex-boss is "not going away anytime soon."
"As long as this resignation wave goes on," Swider says, "organizations will continue to look at boomerang employment more favorably."