They’re called boomerang employees — workers who left for another opportunity, only to return later and retake their place in the line at the coffee machine.
Nearly half of human resources professionals polled last year for a study by WorkplaceTrends.com and the Workforce Institute at Kronos told researchers that their organizations once had policies against re-hiring such people.
But that attitude seems to be changing.
Both that study and a new survey from staffing firm Accountemps show more acceptance of boomerangs. The Workplace Trends research found 76 percent of 1,800-plus human resources professionals surveyed were willing to consider taking workers back, while the Accountemps survey found 98 percent of 300 human resources managers polled open to such a move.
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“It is becoming more common,” said Carrie Haglund, division director of Accountemps in Pittsburgh. The company, a division of Robert Half International, places temporary staff in the finance, accounting and bookkeeping fields.
Haglund said employers are struggling to make good hires. “We hear that again and again — how hard it is to find the right person for your team.”
In addition to the hard skills needed to do a job, employees must have the right soft skills, such as a good work ethic, an understanding of the importance of being punctual and generally fitting into the company culture.
When an employee left for a solid reason — such as moving to another city, a chance to learn new skills or being offered a higher level position — bringing that person back in a new role can seem less risky than starting over with an unknown individual, Haglund said.
Yet there are risks. Sometimes the memories of that individual’s accomplishments make employers forget the issues that might have also been there. Haglund said employers should take a look at why that person left in the first place to make sure any problems are not going to recur.
“This shouldn’t be a quick, ‘Oh, so-and-so wants to come back. Let’s do it,’” she said. “Hit the pause button.”
If the decision is made to re-hire, she also advises making sure the rest of the staff understands why that person left and is being welcomed back.
The growing willingness of employers to embrace boomerangs may not mean much if their former employees don’t actually want to return.
In addition to talking with human resources professionals, the Accountemps survey polled more than 1,000 U.S. office workers 18 years or older. More than half said it was unlikely they would apply for a job with a previous employer.
They cited problems with management, company culture or their job duties. In some cases, they said the company had burned bridges when they left.
Employers who at least want to keep the possibility open of bringing back top people might want to stay connected. The Workplace Trends/Workforce Institute poll found some human resources professionals try to do that.
They use a mix of tools, with 45 percent sending out email newsletters, 30 percent using recruiters and 27 percent involved with “alumni” groups, often through sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
As for workers — even if they are leaving a job with no regrets and no plans to ever look back — Haglund recommends that they, too, avoid burning bridges and acting unprofessionally as they head out the door.
“Pittsburgh’s a small world,” she noted. There is often a small group of employers hiring people in certain fields. Industry gatherings often feature the same faces, even if they’ve moved on to a different role in a different company.
“Your paths,” she said, “may cross again in the future.”