There was a time when few individuals would consider taking a new job with a former employee and few companies would consider re-hiring former employees. Things have changed. When the economic downturn forced employers to cut back on headcount, they had to reluctantly let go of many valued workers. Even in today's somewhat tepid recovery, those same businesses now need to ramp up to meet increasing customer demand. It's natural to consider re-hiring individuals who worked for you in the past (known as "boomerang" employees).
Regardless of whether employees originally resigned or if you made the decision to let them go, re-hiring someone who knows your company culture can have merit in many situations. To some degree, you can trust your gut when making this decision. Still, taking a consistent, analytical approach can help improve the outcome. Here are four things to consider when you try to assess if a boomerang will come back to save you — or smack you in the head.
1. Assess the Reasons Behind the Original Separation
At some point in their lives, most people make mistakes. But, as Winston Churchill said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." In other words, the people you laid off two years ago because they displayed poor judgment in their work may have learned from their mistakes. They may, in fact, have become exactly the employees you need now. And, the same holds true in reverse; if they initially left voluntarily with complaints about the company, changes to themselves or to your company can make conditions ideal for a second try.
So, regardless of who initiated the original exit, don't say "no” without considering the underlying reasons. Give boomerang applicants the opportunity to explain what they learned — and how you can benefit from their return to your company
2. Understand that Previous Company Experience May or May Not Help
Re-hiring former employees has some natural advantages. They're easy to find for recruitment purposes, they already know many associates and they understand the company culture. For many boomerang employees, onboarding is not required; they hit the ground running on the first day of re-employment.
On the other hand, things may have changed in your business since they last worked for you. Of course, those things may actually make your company more attractive when they take a second look. And, don't forget that boomerang employees also go through changes after their initial exit. Did experience from prior jobs make them even more valuable than they were originally? Or, did they witness a miraculous world of employment in the outside world that your small business can never hope to match? Only open and honest interview discussions can help you and the applicant predict the likelihood of future success.
3. Consider the Effects on Co-Worker Morale
Unless your business is small enough to employ just a handful of people, it can be difficult to predict whether or not your existing workforce will greet a boomerang employee with a hearty welcome, a mistrustful shun, or something in between.
The anticipated reaction of other employees is certainly no reason to avoid re-hiring a former worker, but it is most definitely a reason to avoid blindsiding your current staff. It's up to you whether you want to involve them in this hiring decision, but you definitely need to make them aware of the situation — and what you expect them to do (and not do) once the employee begins work.
4. Examine if the Re-hire Really is the Best Candidate
"Better the devil you know" should not be a reason to re-hire a former employee any more than making the choice simply to save time and effort. Granted, there will be occasions when a boomerang candidate offers advantages that you know you cannot duplicate if you hire anyone else. But, under normal circumstances, you should seriously consider talking to talented outside candidates, as well. Even if you have to spend more time onboarding an outsider, that individual might have a better skill set — without potentially higher salary expectations.
The second time might be the charm.
Some argue that a skills gap is preventing U.S. companies from finding suitable new employees. If this is true, it can be tempting to turn to people you know when jobs become available in your company. Whether the employee left out of economic considerations or if either of you was not satisfied the first time around, a re-hire can be a boom or bust. By carefully looking at both sides of all of the issues, you can help ensure that boomerangs meet or exceed expectations, rather than hitting you in the head —for a second time.