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How to bring “boomerang employees” back into the fold

March 16, 2023   by David Gambrill

Businesswoman throwing a Boomerang.

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You know that star employee who left your organization a year ago?

Now might be the time to ask them how it’s going and see if they might be interested in coming back, according to a blog post from Harvard Business Review.

They’re called “boomerang employees,” and companies should consider about 20% to 40% of them as potential candidates for returning.

“Nearly 1 in 5 people who quit during the pandemic have already boomeranged back to the job they left,” Domenic Loparco writes in a 2022 study conducted by UKG, an HR and management consulting firm, cited in a recent Harvard Business Review blog. “For those who have not yet gone back to their old job, a whopping 41% would consider it if it were an option.”

More than 15 million global employees who quit their jobs in 2021 to leave for greener pastures elsewhere now regret the decision, according to UKG, which conducted a six-country study of 4,000 people. In the U.S. alone, 47 million people quit their jobs in 2021, and 62% of UKG’s survey respondents agreed with the statement: “The job I quit was better than my job now,” the study notes.

Why were they were disgruntled in their new jobs?

One big reason is that a wide gulf existed between the promises they heard from recruiters at the new company and what they actually did in their new roles. Also, more than one-third of them missed the people they left behind.

With that in mind, if you’re looking to recruit your former employees back into the fold, here are two things to keep in mind, say Anthony C. Klotz, Andrea Derler, Carlina Kim, and Manda Winlaw, the authors of the Harvard Business Review blog, The Promise (and Risk) of Boomerang Employees.

First off, don’t burn bridges when employees leave. Stay in touch and keep them in your professional social networks.

“When an employee gives notice, most companies focus on minimizing the disruption to the organization and remaining workers,” the HBR authors observe. “While understandable, this approach is incomplete. In addition to these efforts, employers should take steps to build positive relationships with departing workers. After all, our research shows that these employees represent a substantial future recruiting pool.”

Deloitte, for example, offers departing workers access to its online platform where more than 20,000 global alumni share employment opportunities and stay connected with colleagues who are still with the organization. The aim is to show former employees they are welcome to return at any time.

Next, timing is everything. Prepare to make your re-recruitment pitch at about the one-year mark after your employee left.

“The one-year anniversary of a former employee’s resignation represents a natural milestone to check in, express to them that they are missed, and make a rehire offer,” the authors write. “Our research shows that this is also the time when they’re most likely to want to boomerang back, but employers shouldn’t just sit around and wait for it to happen. Reconnecting at this critical moment can be a great way to encourage an employee who may be considering a return to make the leap.”

While it would sweeten the pot to offer a raise or a promotion to lure boomerang employees back, make sure the recruitment effort doesn’t alienate the workers who stayed, the authors note. Employees who did not leave should be treated equitably and rewarded and compensated for the work they have done while the boomerang employee was gone.


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