For this article I wanted to share some fascinating new data on the importance of Boomerang hires, employees that have left an organization for an alternative employer but subsequently been hired back. According to the article (linked below to Harvard Business Review), 20% of workers who quit their job during the pandemic have since returned to their old employer and 28% of all new external hires are boomerangs who had previously resigned within the preceding 36 months. I imagine all of you reading this article will be as stunned as I am by those statistics. I should point out that this is not a small study, the research was provided by Visier through an analysis of 3m employee records across 120 enterprise organizations over a period of 4 years.
This is a topic that resonates with me as I too am a Boomerang employee. After 5 years with AMS, back in 2009, I decided to leave the company to try something completely different. Having spent the whole of my career up to that point working within Talent Acquisition, I accepted an offer to lead the operations of an online marketing company. I lasted 16 months before I was back in AMS and back in Talent Acquisition. I’ve now been back in AMS for 13 years but that doesn’t stop me from being referred to still as a Boomerang employee! I didn’t leave AMS with any sense of frustration or disillusionment, purely a sense that if I didn’t try to do a role outside of TA at that point in my career I may never do so. And why did I return? The allure of a role outside TA was short-lived, I didn’t particularly enjoy the work, I didn’t feel the passion that I feel for TA and I missed my previous colleagues and the culture at AMS.
According to the article in HBR my experience was almost entirely in line with industry norms. The majority of Boomerangs return within 13 months and more than 75% have returned by month 16. I must confess that I don’t remember the extent to which my pay increased at the point of return but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the staggering 25% achieved by the average of Boomerangs. Yes, you did read that correctly.
So what do these surprising statistics mean for those of us in Talent Acquisition?
Boomerangs are obviously a far greater proportion of our hires than many of us expected. As such, with adequate focus, they have the potential to be an even greater source of future talent. If 25% of our external hires come from previous employees, with a little strategy and focus, we could make that proportion even greater still. The research shows us clearly that it is around the 12 month mark post departure that leavers may be tempted to return. As such we should create strategies that consider the following:
- How do we best track departing employees and ensure we can engage again in the future? Can we capture departing employees in a CRM system or create alumni groups via tools such as LinkedIn?
- To what extent can we capture data (skills, prior experience, aspirations, reasons for leaving) that will allow us to match departing employees against future requirements?
- How do we create a level of ongoing engagement with departing employees? Is it possible to send regular company updates, can we invite alumni to exclusive online or in person events?
- Given that it’s the 12 month point at which we should be engaging, how do we prompt recruiters or sourcers to proactively reach out? Is it worth the investment in a dedicated alumni sourcing team to focus exclusively on this community?
Whilst there are clear opportunities for those in Talent Acquisition, what are the broader lessons for those of us with a more holistic interest in talent? As the article points out, whilst a company may gain considerable value in rehiring previous employees, they are as likely to lose a similar proportion of new hires as those hires return to other previous employers. The lesson here must be that we all need to do a much better job of retaining new talent. That means ensuring that the dream we sell when hiring new talent is matched by the reality of employment. Our onboarding needs to be supportive and seamless. We need interventions (such as employee surveys) to identify employees approaching 12 months that may be unhappy or disengaged. And we need to support our managers to be better equipped to identify and support dissatisfied employees.
If 28% of our new external hires are returning on 25% more pay than they had previously earned whilst employed with us, we need to consider new approaches to annual compensation reviews. As I shared in a recent article, typical workers who change jobs will achieve a 9.7% increase in wages v’s a 1.7% fall for those who stay. Given cost of living challenges, it’s hardly surprising workers are considering a change when faced with such increased earning potential. And if employees can leave for a year and return on 25% more pay, they may see the risk of leaving for an alternative employer to be a small risk worth taking.
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