Why More Employees Are Going Back to Their Old Jobs

The rise of the "boomerang" workforce.

Why More Companies Are Welcoming Back Former Workers

Gone are the days of a burned employer writing off an employee who decides to leave for a different company. So-called boomerang employees—workers who return to a former employer—are on the rise.

In a survey of more than 1,800 human resource professionals, managers, and employees by Kronos and Workplace Trends, 76 percent said they're more accepting of hiring former employees than they were five years ago. Nearly two-thirds of managers agreed. Employees also reported feeling less anxiety about returning to a company, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying they would consider boomeranging. 

Despite changing attitudes, the phenomenon is still relatively uncommon. Only 15 percent of employees surveyed said they had returned to a former employer.  

"What we’re seeing at the workplace level is a fundamental shift in [the] employee-employer relationship that is at the root of this," says Dan Schawbel, the founder of WorkplaceTrends. "It used to be that the control was with the employer. You got to work here, it was coveted. You were lucky to have a job," he adds. "I think that has changed quite a bit, driven by the war for top talent in the marketplace."

Multiple surveys put retention as the top issue for human resources. Losing employees is expensive, and finding replacements means time and money. Of course, for someone to boomerang back to a company, he or she has to leave, which is exactly what HR departments don't want. But volatility is the reality of today's workforce. Young workers job hop more than older ones, moving an average of every three years.

"The No. 1 benefit that boomerangs have is that they’re familiar with the organization’s culture, it’s easier to integrate them back to the culture," says David Almeda, the chief people officer at Kronos. It costs less to recruit, hire, and train someone who has already worked in an organization. When such employees come back, they also bring institutional knowledge from competitors. And if that rehire is a high performer, it can boost company morale. 

The reasons employees leave and return can vary. A 2013 study of 15,000 employees found that 20 percent who returned to their old jobs had left to take a break, such as to have a baby or to go to graduate school. Almeda confirms that he is seeing these "life-situation things" more often in his research on boomerang employees. People will leave to spend time with their families and come back once they feel more settled. He has also identified two other kinds of returnees—people who left to get more skills and returned at a higher level, and those who had been at a company for a long time and felt an itch to try something else. 

A notable group not on that list? People who quit dramatically and then told HR how much they hated their boss. Now that employers are softening their rehiring policies, consider this a friendly reminder that it's never smart to burn a bridge.

(Corrects to clarify that the Kronos and Workplace Trends study included human resource professionals, managers, and employees, not just human resource professionals.)

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