In an increasingly tight labour market, the struggle to find good employees with the right skills is real. A recent CIPD survey points to the re-emergence of the war for talent and suggests that almost two thirds of employers are already finding vacancies hard to fill.

With the supply of fresh candidates dwindling, the idea of bringing back past employees can be appealing, provided of course they were good performers and haven’t left the business under a cloud. Ex-staff know the organisation, understand the market and can generally hit the ground running.

But are so-called ‘boomerang’ employees always a good solution? How can you attract them back – and what’s the best way to integrate them successfully into the business?

A fresh perspective

One of the key advantages of returning employees is that they often come back through the doors with a fresh perspective. They have seen how other organisations tackle common challenges, for example, and can bring new ideas and insights to their role. Their energy and alternative approach can help to reinvigorate teams that have become stale and stimulate innovation.

Ex-employees may also have spent their time away learning new skills it might have been difficult for them to acquire while they were still in house. They often return with a deeper, more up-to-date skill set and increased presence and confidence.

There’s a productivity bonus that comes with ex staff too. Depending on how long they have been away, they may still have relationships with clients, suppliers and colleagues which they can renew and build on, making them effective more quickly.

And of course the very fact they have actively wanted to return to the business means they are likely to arrive with an optimistic, enthusiastic outlook which can have a knock-on effect on others.

Changing times

Something to be wary of, however, is the employee who re-joins the business and expects it to be exactly the same as when they departed. In today’s turbulent and agile environment, things change very quickly, and the organisation a ‘boomerang’ employee is coming back to may look very different to the one they left.

Business priorities may have completely changed and new systems and ways of working may have been put in place. The organisation may have automated it people management processes with an HR system, for example, or could have implemented a more sophisticated, technology-driven approach to CRM.

Key faces may also have changed, departmental responsibilities may have shifted and the internal ‘politics’ that exist in every business may have taken on a new shape.

If there have been radical changes in the culture or operations of the business, this should ideally have been made clear to returning candidates at the recruitment stage. If a very family-oriented culture, for example, has become more hard-nosed and sales-driven as the company has grown, they could be in for an unwelcome surprise.

In contrast to the returning employee who is stuck in the past, there is also the danger of a boomerang candidate who wants to use their new-found expertise to change everything, all at once. A major shake-up may well be what’s needed, but someone who comes in with too brash an approach can seriously upset the apple cart.

Existing employees, especially if they have been with the business a long time, may end up feeling resentful and overlooked and there can be a negative impact on team morale.

Starting right

It’s important to make sure a returning employee gets off on the right foot. If someone is coming back into a more senior role, for example, they may need help in positioning themselves appropriately and ensuring they are taken seriously by colleagues who may find it hard to shake off past perceptions about their abilities.

HR can do much to help pave the way and support ‘boomerangers’ in establishing credibility and authority. Using internal communication channels to announce their arrival and the parameters of their new role is a good first step. They may need careful briefing about what has changed since they were last employed, who the key influencers are and what they may need to do differently.

A carefully thought-out induction programme that allows them to quickly meet and establish themselves with senior people and new colleagues will also help them get off to a good start.

Keeping in touch

With ex-employees likely to become a key target group for organisations who are growing and recruiting, HR needs to start giving more serious thought to how it keeps in touch with those who leave.

Forward-looking employers are beginning to create ‘alumni’ type communities, which allow them to keep in touch with talented employees with their consent, and without falling foul of new GDPR regulations about how long personal data can be kept.

Closed Facebook or LinkedIn groups, for example, can be used to keep ex-employees informed of company news and developments and alert them to any new job opportunities that may arise. They provide a valuable platform for on-line networking with and between past staff, which can be supplemented with the occasional opportunity for people to come back into the business, maybe for an annual Summer party or Christmas event.

The key is to find ways to make people feel part of a community, so that if job opportunities do arise, they will know any approach or application they make will be welcome.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.