On the job market, a new buzzword has hit the block: ‘Boomerang employees’ or ‘job boomeranging.’ In our ever-changing world of economic instability, attitudes towards work are changing, with shifts in the values of workers across all generations from boomers to Gen Z. Set among the backdrop of the cost of living crisis, we have seen many new terms coined to describe these various responses from both employees and businesses. Boomeranging back to a previous job is the latest in a series of interlinked trends on the job market.

In this article, we’ll have a look at what exactly it is, why it’s occurring, and whether businesses should rekindle the relationship with their boomerang employees. We will also consider how to manage boomeranging and how you can even stop it occurring in the first place.

Table of Contents

    What are boomerang employees and why is it trending?

    Like the name suggests, ‘boomerang employee’ is a term to describe employees returning to a previous employer. While it used to be that people aspired to start a job, grow at the company, and stay there until retirement, there are many factors that have changed employment patterns over the past decades.

    Automation and new technological advancements meant that some jobs were no longer there to stay. Thus employees had to adapt by retraining, re-skilling or up-skilling to find new opportunities within a similar field or even a different industry. Similarly, digital expansion also meant that geographical boundaries became more fluid, companies more international, and working from home a new trend here to stay (which has only been solidified during the pandemic).

    On another level, those trends coalesced with mindset switches, as new generations hit the employable age. Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z are now working side by side, but come with different mindsets and attitudes towards work. Attitudes which we can attribute to the different economic and social experiences of each generation. Where the Boomers experienced a great degree of stability and a sense that hard work always paid off, younger generations see that as a fleeting illusion in a world now characterised by economic instability and uncertainty.

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    Problems highlighted by emerging trends

    The past few years have been tough on many people. Between the pandemic, economic crises, inflation, the cost of living, and the fallout of automation, many people have lost their security nets, while others have lost their jobs.

    Enter Gen Z: Multi-skilled, happy to freelance, but more invested in their values aligning with their workplace culture. Now, these developments have helped dismantle the myth that you can be secure by staying at one company throughout your working life. On the other hand, they’ve also created other problematic illusions. ‘Toxic productivity‘ (and one’s self-worth determined purely by output in capitalist measurements) on the one-hand versus ‘The Great Resignation‘ and ‘quiet quitting‘ on the other hand.

    Speaking of the Great Resignation— the interesting link here is that this term was coined by Anthony C. Klotz, associate professor of management at UCL School of Management in London. Klotz is also one of the experts to have noticed the trending of job boomeranging. It makes sense that these occurrences are causally linked. The dissatisfaction in response to the illusions of security bursting and the drill of toxic productivity were only some of the key factors driving the surge of employees quitting— either as part of the great resignation, or quietly.

    What’s behind boomeranging?

    Reasons for leaving

    The reasons for quitting a job can be manifold. Most prominently and recently, stress and burnout seem to pop up as factors. Additionally, our values— or those of the companies we work for— are changing, and may not align anymore. It could also be that employees were working remotely during the pandemic and wanted to continue afterwards. Where a company could accommodate that, it worked out; where they couldn’t, employees perhaps felt compelled to find another business that could.

    Essentially, there are many varied reasons for leaving a job. They range from larger trends to very specific factors in every employee’s personal life— be that moving to a new place or trying to branch out into a new sector career-wise. Having a good exit interview feedback solution in place, may help you as employers understand some of the reasons. Then you can dissect whether they are personal factors or whether changes to the company culture or on the organisational level are needed.

    Reasons for returning

    The reasons for returning to an old employer, however, may be more generally understood. In a Financial Times article, Emma Jacobs summarises a few reasons succinctly by looking at some case studies. Perhaps the new job was not the expected upgrade you were hoping for. Or it did not live up to your expectations in terms of company culture, or various other organisational forces. However, she also notes that starting a new job remotely can make it harder to integrate into a new team or build relationships with colleagues.

    Going back to a previous employer means that you are already familiar with company structures, processes, and most of the team. Of course, boomerang employees will probably still encounter lots of new things even at their old job. Just as they have changed as a person, so has the company. This means that boomeranging may not always be as seamless as it seems. Therefore, let’s have a look at the impact boomerang employees have on businesses.

    boomerang employees

    What is the impact of job boomeranging on businesses?

    While quitting may have seemed like a sign of disloyalty in the past, times are changing. Many are acknowledging that there are multifold reasons for leaving a company. Of course, not all acts of quitting are conducted on good terms. But if they are, there are certain benefits that come with rehiring a previous employee:

    • Knowledge of the company: Although many things will have changed, previous employees (depending on the time of their absence) might still have an excellent knowledge of how things are run. Onboarding processes could thus be shorter and fitting back into the job smoother.
    • New skills and mindset: The break from this specific job may have given the previous employee a new mindset and outlook on their previous employer. This could be along the lines of having come to realise the grass perhaps was not greener on the other side. New motivation or appreciation could be the result. The boomerang employee may have also had the chance to up-skill during the intermediate position. They perhaps acquired new assets in terms of abilities to bring to the table.

    While these benefits are enticing, they are not always guaranteed as we have discussed in the previous section. Expectations may have to be adapted on both the employer and employee side. This begs one question for you:

    Should businesses take back boomerang employees?

    The complexity of the reasons for leaving and returning means it is difficult to provide general ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. However, there may be a few questions you will have to ask yourself on a case-to-case basis. These could include:

    • How was the resignation handled? Did the business and the employee part on good terms?
    • How was the impact, productivity, or the energy in the team that employee was displaying before?
    • What were the reasons for leaving and have they changed in a way that makes the return fruitful?

    For example: the only reason was that the employee wanted to work from home. The company could not accommodate this. Now remote work is possible and the employee will return happily.

    In other cases, things can be more tricky. For instance, an employee could have left because of the stress levels of the job. Was their switch enough to recuperate? Do they feel ready to take the job on again? Or perhaps organisationally, things have changed that allow for a lesser workload for the returning employee? This could be rehiring for a different position or fewer contract hours. The list of possibilities is long and comes with specific considerations.

    Ultimately, it remains that there is little general advice with each situation being unique in its own way. A good idea to understand more about boomeranging is therefore to engage with the boomerang employees themselves. Let’s have a look at how feedback strategies can help with this.

    How to manage job boomeranging with feedback

    The best way to get a clear picture is to get to the source directly. There are a few ways that feedback strategies can help you gain valuable data for a case to case basis.

    Employee surveys for employee retention

    Before you even consider questions of quitting and rehiring, using an employee survey software can help you gauge your overall employee experience and levels of satisfaction. This will go a long way in gathering data to make actionable improvements that will help retaining employees. It means you can tackle issues that could result in frustration, lack of motivation, and potential quitting before it even comes to the employee leaving the company.

    Exit interviews to comprehend reasons to leave

    If it does occur that employees intend to leave the company, exit interviews are an excellent way to comprehend some of the reasons for leaving. You can then dissect whether these are personal factors, or whether these are factors that you can translate into changes in the company that ensure higher levels of employee satisfaction and therefore less employee churn.

    Onboarding interviews to clarify expectations

    When you decide to take on a boomerang employee, the onboarding interview process will be vital in clarifying and negotiating expectations on both parts. How will you handle the re-integration? Which changes have occurred in the company, or which ones have occurred for the employee during their absence? This will be important to smoothly incorporate a boomerang employee back into a team.

    Interested to get ahead on employee boomeranging and understand your employees’ satisfaction or reasons for leaving better to create actionable change in the future? Check out our employee survey software to get started with your feedback solution. You can start a free 30-day Netigate trial or reach out to us via this contact form.