Welcoming Back “Boomeranging” Employees

What is your organization’s experience with employees returning after voluntarily quitting? How do you ensure you are not welcoming back an employee who will shortly leave again?

There are some employees who lose a job they love and excelled at, and are never given the chance to return. There are others who quit voluntarily, and then a year or two later come back to the company. The question is: If the employee voluntarily resigned, should an employer welcome them back when they realize they made a mistake and want to return?

I knew a young woman years ago who did well at her job, and was highly appreciated (and got to travel the world doing that job, including two fully paid, luxurious African safaris). But she thought there were better opportunities out there for her. She left her position for a job that sounded terrible to me. It turned out I was onto something. Less than a year later, she was back. She stayed for another couple years, then left (presumably) for good.

Fast-forward years later, and I’m getting close to sealing the deal on a new job at a publication I always wanted to work at. More than two weeks from my second interview go by without hearing anything, which is usually a bad sign. The hiring manager told me he was ready to give the position to me, but then a former high-performing employee sent him an e-mail saying she had seen the job listing and wanted to come back. He enthusiastically welcomed her back. Barely a full year later, she was gone again. The position was downgraded to an entry-level position at that point, and no longer a viable option for me.

Benefits of “Boomeranging”

These stories came to mind when I saw an article by Monica Torres in the Huffington Post on what is referred to in the piece as “boomeranging.” The article touts how great it is to go back to a job you regret leaving. “Boomeranging back to an old employer can help some employees get the high-powered job they always wanted by bypassing the steps in a typical internal career trajectory,” Torres writes. “Margo Kahnrose, chief marketing officer at marketing platform Skai, said boomeranging back to the company after she left it in 2016 gave her time to reflect on the executive role she wanted—and got.”

To me, “boomeranging” is a privilege rather than an option out-going employees can assume they will have. When you leave a job, you should assume it’s for good, and that you will not be welcomed back. It’s possible you will get the chance, but it is dangerous for the average person to assume they have the security of being able to return. From an employer’s perspective, it’s questionable whether it’s a good idea to so unreservedly welcome back an employee who left voluntarily.

In yet another case, I know of a woman who left her entry-level position, which she did well at, only to return less than a month after leaving. She used the opportunity to gain a higher-level title and most likely more money. Yet she still wasn’t happy for the long-term. Like the other examples from my experience, a couple years later, she was gone again. The employer got a few extra years of employment out of this high-performing employee, but perhaps it could have started fresh, hiring a promising individual who may have decided to make a career out of her position at the company.

When an employee voluntarily leaves a position, a savvy employer should consider what that action tells them about the out-going employee. Here is what would occur to me if a highly valued, fairly (or well) paid employee left on their own:

  • The job is not a good fit for their long-term goals.
  • They are not happy staying in one job longer than a few years.
  • They didn’t value the organization and its goals/ideals as much as the organization valued them.

In most cases, I would rather give a new employee a chance than bring back a person who voluntarily relinquished their opportunity.

There are exceptions, of course. An employee may have left for reasons related to their personal life, such as moving out of town, or needing to devote their full-time attention to taking care of a loved one.

Exit Interviews

Before a voluntarily exiting employee leaves, have them sit down with a Human Resources representative. A Learning professional also could sit in to capture useful information. The employee should be asked specific questions about why they are leaving and what they thought of their old position.

  • “What did you most like about the job you are leaving?”
  • “What didn’t you like?”
  • “More than anything else, what is the biggest reason you are leaving this job?”

Then, if the employee wants to come back, the manager will have a file of information about why the employee left to help them decide whether this person should return. It will help the manager answer the question, “What will be different this time around?” If the job they’re returning to is the same one they left, and the reason they left wasn’t money-related (or you were able to meet their new salary demands), there is no reason to bring them back and expect that they will stay more than an additional year or two. Why not give a fresh face—who might be less likely to throw away a great opportunity—a chance?

What is your organization’s experience with employees returning after voluntarily quitting? What do you recommend doing to ensure you are not welcoming back an employee who will shortly leave again?