April 2nd, 2021


What Is Workplace Experience?

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For decades, most companies have held onto an arbitrary, "no rehire" rule. The assumption was that once an employee left the company, they shouldn't be brought back.

Traditionally, executives took the stance: "Once you're out, you're out."

Now, due to mass layoffs and pandemic-related departures, there's a good reason to consider bringing back a previous member of your team. After all, many top companies have realized in recent years that hiring former employees works out well — sometimes.

Here's how to tell when rehiring a former employee is the right move, and when it may not be your best option.

What is a boomerang employee?

A boomerang employee is one who leaves the company and returns after a period of time. Sometimes this is due to a new work opportunity, personal reasons, or because they were let go — which could be performance-related or due to restructuring, downsizing, or any number of reasons not related to behavior or performance.

Will COVID-19 affect boomerang employees?

Today, many employee departures can be attributed to COVID-19. Facing a major economic downturn, some people left due to mass layoffs and pay-cuts.

Employees may have chosen to leave if either they or a family member had pre-existing conditions or other health concerns. A global survey conducted by Financial Times showed childcare needs influenced the decision to quit during the pandemic. 

Should you rehire a boomerang employee?

In our opinion, it depends. In many cases, bringing a former employee back can be a great solution for your company — and other times, it might prove to be problematic.

Rehiring former employees is a more common practice than you might expect and it's more prevalent than it used to be. In a 2015 WorkplaceTrends survey, 76% of HR professionals said they were more likely to rehire boomerang employees than they had been in the past.

Employees are also pretty open to the possibility these days. The same study found that 40% would consider boomeranging back to one of their former employers. Broken down by generation, millennials were the most willing age group (46%) to give a previous employer another chance.

Consider why they left the first time

In a perfect world, you’d win every deal, your sports team would win every game, and you’d only hire players who fit perfectly with company culture.

But it’s not a perfect world. 

Some great employees are going to quit, and you’ll have to let go others who aren’t quite making the cut. However, before you start getting the whole band back together, think about the circumstances under which the employee left the company.

They were involuntarily terminated

If someone was fired, it's important to consider what led to that outcome. For some, rehiring employees in this category is a non-starter.

Even for employees who were terminated for a reason other than performance or behavior, they may feel jilted or less enthusiastic about your company due to the situation. However, the employee may have acquired new skills and may come back ready to work, and thankful for a second chance.

If someone quit, there are several different reasons they might have done so. Let's consider some of the most common scenarios.

They left for external reasons, usually personal or family-related

Employees who resigned for health reasons may look forward to stepping back into their role. With vaccination distribution, the proper health and safety measures in the workplace, and the ability to work remotely, they might feel safe returning.

Share information about your cleaning and sanitization procedures, updated health and safety policies, and additional measures that you'll take to keep the workplace safe.

If stress levels and anxiety caused an employee to leave, make sure to encourage a healthy work/life balance when they're back on board. Research shows 75% of American employees struggled with anxiety caused by the pandemic and other recent events. Awareness for this issue has increased in recent months, leading employers to provide more resources, assistance, and support.

Here's another thing to consider: Four times the number of women left the workforce after the coronavirus outbreak than men, according the the National Women's Law Center. School closures forced many parents into the role of full-time teacher, caregiver, provider, and coach — on top of their regular workload and dealing with the impact of a global pandemic.

Bringing back an employee in this category is usually a safe bet. Since they left for personal reasons, they're likely to be thankful for the company's willingness to be flexible, and are usually welcomed back with open arms by their coworkers.

They were lured away by greener pastures

This group of employees are usually less experienced employees who were lured away by supposedly greener pastures. That may have been salary, equity, a better job opportunity, or even a more desirable job title.

Sometimes, when pastures aren't truly greener, the employee might have a humbling road back. Or, they might have taken an opportunity that afforded a greater level of flexibility that gave them the ability to work remotely. If that was behind their decision to go, it's possible they'll seek reemployment once you've adopted a hybrid work model.

When they come back, you just might find that they are champions of the company, incredible advocates of the brand, and absolute rockstars at work.

They didn't identify with company culture or values — or disliked their environment, role, or colleagues

Both of these scenarios have the potential to be problematic.

If an employee is really not a fit for your company, and you didn't lose any sleep over the fact that they left, that's telling you something. It could tell you one of two things: either your culture or work environment is broken and there's some internal reflection needed, or the employee's own culture or attitude is not a great fit.

Either way, something needs to dramatically change before it works going forward. 

For example, if an employee wasn't fond of the workplace environment because they disliked hot desking, you may want to consider implementing a more modern flexible seating strategy instead.

After a year of being forced to stay at home, people want to know they'll have the freedom to decide what their workplace experience looks like — from finding the perfect desk for the day to reserving that ideal conference room for a team meeting.

Be transparent about what wasn't working before and hold an open conversation about the solution.

Benefits of rehiring former employees

In many cases, bringing a former employee back can be a great solution for your company — and other times, it might prove trickier. Here are some advantages of a boomerang employee:

They get up to speed quickly

The most obvious advantage is speeding up the hiring process, cutting it down from months to just a couple weeks — or even days, in some cases. 

You may find rehired employees make valuable contributions much sooner than the time it takes new employees to get through the recruitment, hiring, and onboarding processes.

Think about the time dedicated to hiring a new employee. You spend hours sifting through resumes, trying to find the right fit for the job, and then you spend even more time taking candidates through the interview process.

You can also significantly reduce the time it takes to achieve productivity. For first-time employees, it can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months to get up to speed. Former employees already know the company and what’s expected of them. You'll spend less time formally training on the code base, the product, or the sales process, and they may already have friends in the company.

Only one problem: Your workplace looks a little different these days.

Desks are further apart to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Offices and meeting rooms need to be kept at reduced capacity. You might have blocked off common areas, such as the kitchen or lounge, and added safety screens and partitions in the lobby. 

Things won't be exactly where they remember them, so your office may be difficult to navigate. Wayfinding apps and digital signage can help your boomerang employees feel welcome in an unfamiliar workplace, and can even help your current employees adjust to the changes you've made.

They're a good fit with your company culture

Culture fit and job fit are even more difficult to determine. It can be less time-consuming — and less risky — to rehire someone you already know has a good work ethic, the necessary skills, and is a great fit with your company culture.

Plus, since they are already familiar with internal systems, company processes, and fellow employees compared to a first-time employee, a boomerang employee might feel more comfortable when they get started (again). 

It's important that company culture is a good fit for the employee — and vice versa. Consider Tony Hsieh's famous example of offering employees $2,000 to quit after their initial onboarding. If they weren't a natural fit for the company, they would take the $2,000. If they didn't, they believed in the culture and really wanted to be there.

They can advocate for your company

If they left and decided to come back, they may become some of the strongest champions of your company. They can attest to improved company culture and flexible work environments. Actions speak louder than words, so their return signals how much they value working for your company — and shows just how much they appreciate another chance to do so.

Disadvantages of rehiring former employees

You don't want employees who view employment at your company like a rebound relationship: A comfortable place to be while they look for their next one. If that's the case, you may want to reconsider. Here are some signs that rehiring an employee is a bad idea:

Rehiring former employees could lower company morale

If you’re considering rehiring someone, have several conversations with your team and with the candidate to determine which of the above situations is the most likely scenario.

Check that your team is happy and willing to work with the employee again, then decide whether to extend an offer or not.

If they left once, they might leave again

Change is hard, as most companies know — it takes real dedication. These rehires could end up leaving again within one year. Compared to other boomerang employees, they may be less productive or loyal.

It's important to have an open conversation around why they left, so you can make sure their return is successful for everyone involved. 

Setting them up for success (again)

If you do decide to rehire a former employee, here are some suggestions for making their return as smooth as possible.

Consider their point of view

Keep in mind that the person you’re rehiring may be nervous. They might be concerned about what sort of welcome they’ll receive when they come back.

So make sure that current employees know they’re returning, and emphasize the value that the boomerang employee brings to the team. You’ll want to make sure to reset expectations clearly with both the rehire and the existing team. In other words, don't create the expectation that if you leave, you’ll always be welcomed back through a revolving door.

Talk to them about what's changed

You’ve probably made any number of changes since the former employee left. Be sure they understand the new technology or processes you’re using to improve workplace productivity. If it’s been a while, plenty of things may have changed and you don’t want old habits to overpower new ones.

Approach hiring them like you would with a new employee. Bring them up to speed on their day-to-day tasks, what tools are available, who they’ll be reporting to, how they’ll be evaluated, and other important information they need to know.

While a boomerang employee may be familiar with you — and you with them — for them to successfully adapt to your company now, effective communication and training will be key.

Success today means having providing them with the equipment, resources, and information they'll need wherever they're working. If you do it wrong, you could leave them with a bad experience, and end up with a mess on your hands. If you do it right, you can bring a lot of value to the organization and to your boomerang employees.

Give boomerang employees a great experience with a desk booking app. It helps them feel welcome and confident whether they're using their mobile device to reserve a place to work the night before or finding an available space when they're in the office and then knowing they'll be able to get there.

Create a more flexible workplace for your entire workforce by finding a solution that works for everyone.

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