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Return of the Boomerang Employee

July 22, 2022 Employee Experience
mary slaughter
By Mary Slaughter LinkedIn

One of the curious side effects of the great resignation is employees returning to their former employer.

Employees exit as they are seeking something they can’t find.

Employees boomerang as they are seeking something they left behind.

This article is a follow up to a piece Andrea Derler and I wrote in March about why leaders leave. Much of that article addressed the relational aspects between leaders and employees — how the behaviors of leaders impact organizational behaviors at large. We’ve waited a few months to discuss a new body of research about people who boomerang or “return to the originator.”

No doubt, relationships are the single most compelling reason why employees return to their previous organization. Employees continue to vote with their feet on the importance of feeling a sense of connection to their colleagues, their employer and the purpose of the organization. Even when employees leave for tangible reasons like promotions, raises and fresh experiences, they still reference the emotions that are associated with their legacy organizations.

When I reviewed Andrea’s initial research, I was particularly struck by the reasons these boomerang employees cited for exiting their new gig. After reading the list of reasons, I immediately thought how preventable these feelings are for any new hire. The top five reasons were:

  1. No onboarding support.
  2. Role reality didn’t match the interview description.
  3. Unmet career expectations.
  4. Unfavorable culture and colleagues.
  5. Desire for greater work-life balance.

At the risk of stating the obvious, getting ahead of these issues with any new hire would increase the “stickiness” of the hire, enhance your employment brand and improve the overall employee experience of not only the new hires, but also existing employees with whom the newbies interact.

How to Improve the Employee Experience of New Hires 

Onboarding

While this period can formally last a full year, those first 90 days are when employees are deciding if they made a smart decision to join the firm. If nothing else, define a buddy system and don’t let new hires drift. The burden of fostering connections resides with the employer, not the new hire, during onboarding — particularly in those initial 90 days.

Role Realities

While tempting to “sell” a prospective candidate on a role, trust is established (or undermined) when reality is compared to recruitment. It’s a tremendous complement to an organization when new hires report that the reality of their role has turned out to be exactly as described during the hiring process.

Career Expectations

It’s just as important to understand a prospective employee’s expectations as it is to define the organization’s expectations. Much better to uncover misaligned expectations before a hiring decision is made than after. I believe in the old adage that “the only thing worse than no hiring decision is a bad hiring decision.”

Related Article: Boomerang Employees: Why Employees Are Coming Back

Culture and Colleagues

Perhaps the easiest cure for this disconnect is to involve a broad range of colleagues in the interview process itself. Engage diverse perspectives, including people currently in similar roles, recent new hires and legacy employees. Much better to create transparency about the culture and allow potential new hires to assess the fit for themselves.

Work-life Integration

Every industry study I’ve read over the last 18 months has highlighted the labor market’s demand for increased flexibility, individual choice and a renewed focus on integrating work within the context of their lives. As a result of COVID-19, hybrid work has become normative, and the resulting policies and processes are just beginning to reflect the new reality. If you haven’t already, define what hybrid is or is not for your organization and equip your talent acquisition team with those answers. 

Andrea Derler, Visier Principal of Research and Value
Andrea Derler, PhD, is Visier's principal of research and value. Her contributions have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Chief Learning Officer, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and more. 

An organization’s financial success depends to a considerable degree on its ability to hire and retain talent. As we are tracking talent movement trends in our anonymized and standardized database encompassing more than 15 million employee records, we noticed not only monthly resignations going up, but also that organizations have hired a lot more external talent than they moved internally for the past three years (see figure below).

One unintended consequence of increasing resignation and external hiring rates is the emergence of so-called ‘boomerang employees’: workers who voluntarily left an employer for another company, only to return some while later. And while changing jobs and switching careers are a normal part of someone’s work experience, the sheer magnitude of the boomerang trend (research forthcoming) suggests that many employees are deeply discontent with their employers.

Research & Insights Group, Visier Inc. 2022
PHOTO: Research & Insights Group, Visier Inc. 2022

Boomerang employees we interviewed shared not only their dissatisfying experiences at the new company, they also revealed what made them leave their old employers in the first place: lack of growth and learning opportunities, dead-end careers, and salaries they thought to be unfair or too low. Considering that many employees who leave their company do so because they want to develop new skills and explore something 'new,' the boomerang employee trend is an indicator of how well employers look after new and existing talent.

About the Author

Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.

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