Boomerang employees: As Jack Dorsey returns to Twitter, why rehiring a former colleague is not always a win-win scenario

Hiring a “boomerang” employee is a decision that could come back to bite managers (Source: Getty)
Last week saw Jack Dorsey return to the helm at Twitter, taking up the chief executive position he initially held after founding the company in 2007. His familiarity with Twitter’s structure is an asset, but Dorsey comes with baggage, and his refusal to leave his post at payments company Square is provoking some concern.
“Boomerang” employees, who choose to return to their former employer after a stint away, were once written off by firms, but are becoming increasingly common. A Workforce Institute survey of American HR professionals, employees and managers found that nearly 40 per cent of staff say they would consider returning to their old workplace. Employers are warming to the idea as well. While half of organisations had discriminated against former employees in the past, 76 per cent of HR workers are now open to the idea. So what are the pros and cons of letting former employees back into the fold?


In many ways, rehiring former employees is a sensible option, particularly for a recently-promoted manager looking for allies. Research by recruitment agency Robert Half shows that 97 per cent of finance leaders have trouble sourcing skilled financial services professionals. Former employees are a known quantity; their skills are established and their trustworthiness has been proven. Their expertise may also have been broadened in the interim, in new roles at other companies.
“There has clearly been a good fit in the past,” says Neil Owen, director at Robert Half. “You both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and what you’re getting involved in. But there’s also a sense of loyalty. The employee has clearly seen that the grass isn’t as green elsewhere.”
Moreover, hiring from within an established personal network may help to minimise the costs of finding and training a new employee. Oxford Economics has found that the average cost of employee turnover is £30,614 per person, accounting for the output lost while the new hire gets to grips with things, and the logistical cost of finding and hiring them.


But managers should be conscious that the required skills and technical competences change as teams adapt to new business challenges. An employee who excelled at one time may no longer be up to the job. “Boomerang candidates should be screened with the same selection criteria as any other candidate, and managers should be sure to explain exactly how the role differs from the one they left, before a selection is made,” says Owen.
Managers should also be careful not to choose old colleagues for personal reasons, or hire in their own image. Past experience of working together may have engendered similar approaches to strategy which could diminish the diversity of a team and shrink the talent pool. Employees with no historical connection could bring new ideas and it would be a mistake not to give them equal consideration.


The employee’s decision to leave both your company, and their current employer, should be closely scrutinised. The candidate’s reasons for leaving may have faded with time, and may resurface if they are not addressed directly before they re-hired. “Exit interviews are useful for both sides,” suggests Owen. After all, an employee is likely to be more frank about their tenure as they leave than when they come to re-apply.
Managers should also find out exactly why the applicant wants to return to a company which has not been able to satisfy their career goals in the past. “A job should open up valuable opportunities to acquire new credentials and skills,” Sarah Green Carmichael told the Harvard Business Review. It may simply be that your firm is their last resort.


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