In an article published in Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business
Whenever Brad Ronek talks to new employees, he asks them the same question: Is this going to be a job or a career you could build a future with?
The way Ronek sees it, if you like the company — and its mission statement aligns with your personal goals — you have an opportunity to be part of something bigger by making a career out of your job.
He speaks from experience.
Ronek, senior sales manager at Honkamp Krueger, liked his company so much that he came back to make a career with it after leaving to explore new opportunities with a startup firm.
He’s what is known as a boomerang employee, a worker who left an employer and later returned. And there are a lot of boomerangs in a workforce that is more mobile than ever.
His first change
After working his way up at Honkamp Krueger & Co. in Dubuque for more than six years, Ronek was recruited by a friend to join a startup company in the real estate business. The market was thriving, and the new position promised plenty of opportunities for growth and advancement.
Ronek gave his employer a full month’s notice and accepted the new job in 2007.
“It was tough to leave,” he said. “I had a lot of good friends I stayed in contact with.”
For awhile, things were going well at the new company. Then, the economy took a turn, and the startup eventually shuttered.
Eleven months after leaving Honkamp Krueger, Ronek found himself without a job. He reached out to his former employer to see whether he could return part-time as an appointment setter, the position he was originally hired for, while he looked for a new job. The company had other ideas and asked him to return full-time as the business development manager.
“They were willing to give me another shot and welcomed me back with open arms,” Ronek said. “My first stint with them was a job. But once you leave and see the type of company they are and what they’re trying to accomplish, it was a wake-up call for me.
“This is not a job, it’s a career, and I could spend the rest of my days working at Honkamp.”
With unemployment reaching record lows and more employees quitting their jobs, companies are struggling to fill vacant positions.
“When I interview candidates, I find more people are shopping around,” said Richelle Gentile, corporate recruiter for Honkamp Krueger. “Right now, the market favors the employee versus the employer.”
As a result, many hiring managers are changing their opinions about boomerang employees: More companies might be giving former employees another chance. In fact, 76 percent of human resources professionals say they are more open to hiring former employees than they were in the past, according to a 2015 WorkplaceTrends national survey.
And many companies — places like Microsoft, Citigroup and JPMorgan — are creating corporate alumni groups to stay connected with past employees, according to Forbes.
But there are pros and cons to hiring boomerangs. Both the employer and the employee should consider both sides of the coin before renewing the working relationship.
Former employees can be more than worth it.
Ronek says it was easy to return to work at his former employer. He knew the people, the processes and what the company wanted to accomplish. This ultimately cut down on training time for both the employer and the employee.
“I was back up and running within a day or two,” he said.
Woodward Communications Inc. (which is parent company of the Telegraph Herald, publisher of bizTimes.biz.) has long seen the benefits of hiring boomerangs. The company’s overall boomerang rate is 13 percent, and the figure climbs to 17.2 percent when one of its younger companies, Two Rivers Marketing, is taken out of the equation.
“Generally, we’re really happy to have people come back,” said Patricia Dietz, human resources manager for Woodward Community Media. “You have a known entity with the person who’s worked here before. They created their own reputation when they were working with us, and people will remember that.”
Woodward employees might leave due to family circumstances — a move or parenthood, for instance — or because of a new career opportunity elsewhere. In either instance, former employees come back with a fresh set of eyes, Dietz said.
“Any time somebody leaves, they gain wonderful experience in another environment with other people, they grow and they’re more knowledgeable,” she said. “And then, they bring that experience back.”
While employee turnover can be costly in terms of training new hires, rehiring former employees can send a positive message to those who remain, Gentile said.
“By showing existing employees that others have left and come back, it makes them less likely to leave,” she said. “It’s a great testimonial.”
It also can be more reason for the boomerang employee to stay put this time.
Chad Chandlee, president of Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., said many people today operate under the FOMO mentality — Fear of Missing Out. When employees start wondering about professional opportunities elsewhere, they are no longer fully committed to their current employer.
“People leave for what they thought were good reasons — and probably were good reasons,” he said. “What I see almost every time is that if they come back, they’re here for good. Now you have their loyalty. All of a sudden, you’re 100 percent committed to what you’re doing, that stress of the outside noise is gone and you’re happier in general.”
Why you might think twice about rehiring
But not every former employee is the right fit.
Sometimes, bringing someone back might send a negative message to those who stayed. Whenever a former employee wants to return to Kendall Hunt, Chandlee said his first thoughts go to his current employees — and how that would impact them.
Employees who remained with the company might feel slighted if someone who left is the one being offered the open position.
“You want to be careful about the message you’re sending. It’s kind of like the Prodigal Son. And sometimes that’s enough reason to not bring the person back,” Chandlee said. “But typically, if they left on good terms and are a good employee, we are very open to bringing people back.”
It’s also important to consider why the employee left the first time. If the reason hasn’t been resolved, the same problem likely will resurface, Gentile cautioned.
And how did the employee get along with others?
“If they were not well thought of and you bring them back, now you have another type of morale problem,” Chandlee said.
Just because it won’t take as long to train a returning employee doesn’t mean that person is the best candidate for the job. The length of time the employee has been gone — and the role the person would be filling — also can be a deal breaker.
“Like any company, we’re not the same as we were 30, 20 or even 10 years ago,” Dietz said. “If we’re bringing someone back for a more technical position, technology has evolved over the years, and processes have evolved over the years.”
How to foster a successful rehire
Employers and employees have a vested interest in parting on good terms, Chandlee said.
“You don’t know what life is going to throw at you, and there’s no reason to ever burn a bridge,” he said.
For employers, that means recognizing and being understanding that workers leave for a variety of reasons.
“To say, ‘We’re the only company you should ever work for,’ I think that’s an arrogant statement,” Chandlee said. “I think we’re a great company, but we’re not the best fit for every person.”
But employees play an important role in the relationship, too. Chandlee always will consider how the employee left when someone wants to return. Did the employee provide fair notice? Did he help with the transition? Those things matter and say a lot about the person as an employee, he said.
And if you’re the employee considering a departure, understand why you are leaving.
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” Ronek said. “And you might not realize it now, but you might be part of something special happening.”