How to manage the return of ‘boomerang’ employees
You’ve heard about the Great Resignation. But what about the Great Regret? Sometimes employees who leave their jobs wish they had not. It can pave the way for a former employee to return.
Workers and human resources leaders need to have their eyes wide open when it comes to reuniting.
Perhaps your organization felt the impact of the Great Resignation. For many, the pandemic was exhausting, anxiety-provoking, and many employees just needed a psychological reset. This prompted a wave of people leaving their jobs starting in the last half of 2021.
“A new employment opportunity represented a chance for a fresh start where they could shed the burnout conditions they were feeling at their current employer,” said Greg Barnett, chief people scientist at Energage. “But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. As the honeymoon period ended, employees found themselves with an entirely new set of stress, pressure, and challenges.”
When people change jobs, they are forced to adapt to new stressors without the comforts or safety nets they had grown accustomed to at their old organizations, such as friendships and good manager relationships, Barnett said.
Additionally, many employees feel regret because they changed jobs to make more money. But as Energage research has shown for years, pay and benefits are typically among the lowest-ranking factors when employees are asked what matters the most to them in terms of their engagement in their work. Direction, leadership, a sense of purpose and a feeling of appreciation all factor higher when it comes to giving extra discretionary effort on the job.
The ego boost from earning a bigger paycheck can become part of the regret, too. Employees can find themselves wearing “golden handcuffs,” Barnett said.
“They were making more money but doing something that they didn’t enjoy,” he said. “And escaping the situation meant risking the new compensation levels they’d become accustomed to. While the extra pay can help with some of the bad feelings, over the long haul, being stuck in a bad situation takes a bigger toll.”
The Great Resignation had a silver lining. Companies severely impacted by talent shortages became more aggressive about retaining employees. That meant changes in compensation, a focus on internal promotions, and other moves intended to keep the very best talent.
When it comes to rehiring former employees, human resources leaders should consider some benefits of boomerang employees:
- They can get back up to speed much faster than new employees. On day one, these employees already understand the business, the culture, and the people. They know how things get done and whom they should talk with.
- They’ve had an opportunity to experience another culture. In coming back, they know what they are getting into. Rarely will an employee return somewhere in a bad culture fit. They might even value certain nuances of the culture more than they did before.
- Organizations know who they are getting; they know boomerang employees' strengths and weaknesses on day one. This creates less risk while affording the opportunity to better deploy their talents.
Barnett said It's especially important for HR leaders to understand the real reasons a person left their company and to address those before rehiring. While compensation is often the most obvious issue, other reasons may have contributed to disengagement.
Be straightforward with employees about how their return could be different and better. Find a way to make their return better, whether it be different work, more growth and development, or career advancement opportunities.
Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s survey partner for Top Workplaces.
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