Sweet goodbyes leave the door open for experienced employees to return

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One morning Molly tells her boss she’s leaving the company. Her news is met with a coolness that persists and she can’t wait to go. Molly’s mate also tells her boss she’s leaving. Her manager expresses genuine regret at her departure and wishes her well while reminding her that she’d be welcome back at any time.

What manager A is failing to recognise through the fog of high dudgeon is that alienating a departing employee is potentially an expensive mistake. It costs a lot less to rehire a former employee than to take on a new one. Estimates as to how much vary, but companies that keep things cordial could save between 30 and 60 per cent in recruiting costs by rehiring “boomerang” (former) employees.

Boomerangs accounted for 4.5 per cent of all new hires in 2021 up from 3.9 per cent in 2019, data from LinkedIn shows.

Ben Laker, a professor of leadership at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School estimates the cost of replacing an employee earning around €60,000 is between €30,000 and €40,000. Hiring a boomerang will save up to two-thirds of this, he says, adding that familiarity also reduces the risk of the hire going wrong.

In addition, boomerangs can hit the ground running because they are already familiar with the company’s culture and how things are done. Writing in MIT Sloan’s management review in February, Laker says that as companies struggle to fill roles, former employees should not be overlooked as a reservoir of potential talent.

“The most significant risk of rehiring boomerang employees is that they could leave the organisation again, forcing it back to square one,” he says. “Setting up a boomerang hire for success thus requires some extra planning. Employee and employer must be precisely clear on what’s different this time around, and both must accept mutual growth and change.

“On what terms did the employee previously leave? Are those factors being addressed with the new role, or will the employee continue to be a flight risk? Do they have clarity around their reasons for returning, and can they clearly explain them?”

CRM cloud software company Salesforce, which employs 2,500 people in Ireland, believes in leaving the door open for boomerangs because it sees employees that leave as employees that might come back, bringing valuable experience from the outside world with them.

Salesforce has around 78,000 employees worldwide so it’s inevitable that people will move on for career and personal reasons. However, the company doesn’t take their resignations personally. Instead, it encourages those leaving to stay in touch through an active alumni programme that they can opt to join.

The company’s executive vice-president for employee success (HR by another name) in EMEA is Cavan-born Angela McKenna. She has worked with Salesforce for the last nine years, initially in a learning and development role, before moving to the US in 2015 to establish the global talent experience centre which covers areas such as onboarding and talent management.

“We think as much about the offboarding of our employees as we do about the onboarding,” McKenna says. “The culture in our company is to celebrate everyone’s achievements. So when people choose to leave, we wish them well on the next stage of their journey. Why wouldn’t you take the view that somebody who has gained huge experience within your organisation will be carriers of the culture outside of the company?”

Salesforce has a playbook to guide managers through the offboarding process and keeping connected to those who have left is a key HR policy, with ample opportunity for them to participate in resource groups if they wish.

Asked if a boomerang applicant is more likely to catch the HR people’s attention, McKenna says the practice within the organisation is to give them a serious look. “We certainly don’t take the view that if we weren’t good enough for them first time around, why would we be good enough for them now?”

McKenna has seen employees from all levels, right up to senior management, return to the company. “We’ve had some pretty significant senior executives come back and we take the time to ask them why, what they feel is different now and what can we learn from what bring,” she says.

“I’ve seen people come back after 10 years of being away and after a year of being away. Very often when they come back within a short time frame, it’s because they’ve gone to another company and it hasn’t been a cultural fit for them. Some people come back to an equivalent role, others to a more significant or changed one.”

Nicola Brady is a senior quality assurance manager with pharmaceutical company, Amgen. She left the company before remote working was available because she wanted to relocate to Galway to be near her family after her first baby was born. She then spent two years working with a consultancy before Covid changed everything and remote working was suddenly on the table. She rejoined Amgen in a similar role, but in a different part of the business, last September.

“I loved my job and hadn’t wanted to leave but I had no choice at the time,” she says. “However, they told me the door was always open and it’s great to be back. All of my prior experience was hugely beneficial, it’s been lovely to reconnect with colleagues and I really feel like I’ve found my flow.”


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