The workers scoring the biggest raises and promotions aren't just changing jobs — they're going back to their exes.
Between January and April 2022, the average boomerang employee scored a 28% pay raise when returning to an old employer, compared with their pay at the time of resignation, according to Visier data of 3 million employee records at 129 global companies. The typical boomerang worker made their return 13 months after leaving.
That rate outpaces even the massive wage gains job-switchers are seeing in today's tight labor market. The typical job-switcher got a 10% pay bump after changing jobs in the last year, according to Pew Research Center.
While job-switchers tend to score raises by moving, workers who quit again to return to a former employer may get an even bigger boost, the Visier data suggests.
When a worker boomerangs back to an old company, not only can they leverage for a raise to keep up with the competitive market, but they also come at a premium for having both institutional knowledge of the company as well as added experience from being away, says Andrea Derler, head of research at Visier.
For some, quitting and returning may be the quickest way up the career ladder. Some 40% of boomerangs hired into management roles were individual contributors before they left.
And it's an even bigger trend than you might think: Roughly one-third of external hires made from January 2019 to April 2022 were boomerang workers, according to the Visier data.
In today's tight labor market, where there are nearly two open jobs for every available worker, hiring managers continue to scramble to fill roles. Boomerang employees can usually be hired and onboarded much faster than someone completely new to the company.
The most common reasons why boomerangs quit the first time were bigger existential problems. While many were just interested in trying something new, others were compelled to leave because they didn't see a future career or opportunities to learn and grow in their role, according to Visier. Others thought they were being underpaid or didn't like their long commute to an office.
But the biggest reasons why they left their second company stem more from regretting the first move, rather than being energized by opportunities to return to familiar territory, Derler notes. Boomerangs said they left their second company because there was no onboarding or support, the new role didn't match what they interviewed for, they disliked the new company's culture and peers, and because they lacked work-life balance.
Relationships also play a role: Boomerangs are more likely to return to a company where they have strong ties to the managers and colleagues there.
Based on interviews with boomerang employees, "I get the sense that people are walking into their new employer with similar expectations of their old one, but they don't get it," Derler says. "So they think, 'I might as well go back to the old place and have the same dilemma there.'"
Even if a worker gets a promotion and raise at a new company, they may not be compelled to stay if they don't like their new environment, Derler adds.
There's a pretty straightforward solution if everyone's quitting to get more pay — boost compensation and other rewards. But HR leaders and managers have more work to do to address bigger issues like a lack of career development and opportunities, Derler says.
First, company leadership should have better ways or rewarding and engaging high performers. Star workers should be recognized with raises and promotions at least every two years, Derler says.
On the other end, companies bringing in new talent should take a closer look at their onboarding process. "It sounds like an HR skill, but the onboarding skills of a manager in the first year can't be overstated enough," Derler says. "That's when people really think: Can I stay here, or did I risk too much leaving my old job behind?"
Onboarding isn't just laying out the tasks and expectations of a job, Derler adds. Managers should take time in the first year to engage new hires into the social networks and culture of a company, too.
And finally, "every manager needs to engage a new hire on a human level," Derler says. "Relationships are the No. 1 reason why people go back" to an ex-employer, she adds. If not, "workers will think: If no one cares if I'm here or not, I might as well go back."