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As the battle for talent continues, those in recruitment marketing have noticed an unexpected trend with employees leaving their companies — they prefer their previous roles and are looking to return to former employers.

These returning employees, also known as “boomerangs”, find their new roles are not as fulfilling as they hoped — and, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, there was an increase of boomerang hires from 2019 to 2021, from 3.9% to 4.5%.

OKCupid’s Associate Director of Global Communications, Michael Kaye, gave insight in the article on being a boomerang and deciding to return to a previous employer. After missing the direct impact of being on a smaller team, Michael returned to OKCupid after leaving for eight months for a new role at LinkedIn.

“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” he states.

Noticing this trend, many talent leaders are using this opportunity to lure back boomerangs to their organizations. Here are some key strategies and techniques talent leaders are deploying to welcome back former employees.

Use exit and stay interviews to build good rapport with boomerangs

Boomerangs can be some of the best hires, as shown in research by Kincentric, which shows how returning employees come back with more appreciation for their roles and may get increased compensation. They often dedicate themselves to duties outside their regular roles and offer more mentoring.

Because of this, it’s best to establish good relations with any existing employees. This can be done by performing exit and stay interviews to address any potential concerns.

Kate Grimaldi, Senior Director of Enterprise Talent Strategy at Paylocity, wrote about how stay interviews can help prevent attrition.

“With anxiety remaining at such elevated levels, empathetic conversations that encourage employees to be vulnerable and honest can pull fears or interests out in the open, instead of sweeping feelings under the rug — which can then lead to resignations,” Kate says in the article.

These genuine conversations can help establish a good rapport between potential boomerangs and could even help prevent employees from leaving all at once. But if an employee chooses to go, an exit interview can help address personal concerns within an employee’s role.

Dr. Chris Mullen, Senior Director of Human Insights at UKG, gave insight in a Business of Fashion article where he states how exit interviews should provide actionable feedback from employees.

According to Chris, employers should pay close attention during exit interviews for employee feedback, with an eye on gauging opportunities for a potential return.

“With anxiety remaining at such elevated levels, empathetic conversations that encourage employees to be vulnerable and honest can pull fears or interests out in the open, instead of sweeping feelings under the rug.”

Kate Grimaldi, Senior Director of Enterprise Talent Strategy at Paylocity

Build an alumni network to establish connections

Staying connected with employees who choose to leave can be great leverage in recruiting top talent. Boomerangs who are in the loop with former employers and have shown interest can act as top candidates and refer other qualified top talent for open roles.

Sodexo Interim VP Lisa Inserra, who served as the Senior Director of Talent Acquisition for over 14 years, says expanding alumni networks can help increase competition for talent and keep former employees engaged.

Lisa says, in an article by the Association for Talent Development, Sodexo’s alumni network program helps convince boomerangs to return, and they’re seeing great results from established connections.

The article explains how 20% of the external hires Sodexo makes each year are former employees. Lisa adds, “It is one of the largest candidate pools that we pull from with our external hiring.”

Andrea Legnani, Global Head of Alumni Relations at Citi, explains how a shift in the company perception of employees who leave is helping encourage boomerang behavior.

“Companies are looking at alumni as employees of the future,” Andrea says in a Financial Times article. According to Andrea, Citi estimates about 10% of its current global workforce are boomerangs.

Using all resources of communication can help in staying in touch with boomerangs. Wanda Cole-Frieman, Senior Vice President of Talent Acquisition at CommonSpirit Health, shares in a Harvard Business Review article how they use text messaging to stay engaged with alumni.

“We’ve moved to doing a lot of text recruiting lately. Especially for our clinical areas,” Wanda says. “A lot of those employees and former employees are on the floor. So, they’re not sitting in front of a laptop … we’ll initially start there and then pick up the conversation.”

“Companies are looking at alumni as employees of the future.”

Andrea Legnani, Global Head of Alumni Relations at Citi

Address issues of concerns from boomerangs

Employees who choose to leave do so for a reason. During the stay interviews, and especially during exit interviews, employees provide feedback that must be considered before pursuing boomerangs.

If you fail to address their initial concerns, welcoming a boomerang will be for naught and could result in that employee leaving again.

As the leader of Human Insights at UKG, Chris Mullen explains in a Business of Fashion article how talent leaders should only reach out to boomerangs once they’ve addressed the concerns.

The feedback should be taken seriously and used as an opportunity to re-engage with boomerangs. “If a good employee left due to scheduling issues or insufficient pay, companies should only reach out if they have addressed those challenges,” Chris explains.

Benchmark with your peers to understand how to best attract boomerangs

If you’re a senior talent marketing leader at a billion-dollar company, you can look to your peers to get more insights.

The Talent Marketing Board is the one place where you can openly discuss with those leading employer brand and recruitment marketing at the world’s biggest companies. Members meet daily to confidentially discuss emerging topics in our confidential, vendor-free community.

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