The boomerang effect: Should you rehire?

by Stephanie Zillman08 Nov 2011

Welcoming back former employees can be a smart move, and may be the answer to filling managerial positions during the tightening of the skills shortage, but only under the right circumstances.

According to Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of Great People Decisions and senior adviser at EgonZehnder International, former employees and business leaders represent an untapped talent pool because unlike external candidates, ex-top employees possess valuable insider knowledge of the organisation and its culture.

In a recent study by Accenture, 54% of large businesses that laid off employees in the past year are now having difficulty finding skilled workers for new positions, and to bridge the gap many employers are considering rehiring former employees.

Fernández-Aráoz said ex-employees can also bring an outsider’s insights to new challenges.  However, the success of bringing back former staff is heavily dependent on how effectively HR reintroduces them into the organisation.

To allow a smooth reintegration, Fernández-Aráoz said it’s imperative that HR clearly communicates to team members exactly why the former employee is being brought back to other company, and especially to any internal candidates who were not successful.

Regardless of the reason the employee’s original term of employment was terminated, there are benefits and shortcomings to rehiring, namely:

Employee morale – If employees see that their employer is actively working to bring back employees, it can have a positive effect on morale — and it can bring people back together who formerly worked well as a team.

Training – Rehired employees understand the company culture, and employers don’t have to retrain them. Even if company structure has changed somewhat since they left, you’re likely looking at a quick brush-up versus a training overhaul.

New perspective — Time may actually have not just healed all wounds — but may have enabled both the person or people who let an employee go, and that employee, get away from a negative situation, gain some perspective, and learn from mistakes. Even if the situation ended on a neutral or positive note, time away in which a former employee has had a chance to pursue other interests, hobbies, and skills may benefit not only them and their place in the organisation, but also their employer, once he or she is brought back into the fold.

Resentment – If things ended on a sour note, rehiring former employees can be complicated — and may not work out well in the long run. Even if an employer did everything they could to ease the stress of the situation, an employee may harbor resentment and bitter feelings, and those feelings may have grown stronger since they left the organisation.

Melvin Scales, senior vice president for global solutions at Right Management noted, “People may have worked with you for 20 years. But they’ll remember the last 10 minutes of the relationship.”

Current employee backlash — Employees who watched someone else leave and then come back may become jealous because a rehired employee is now getting work they were handling and returning “without paying their dues” as a new employee would. After all, remaining employees are often the ones left picking up the extra work when a company downsizes.

Short-term success – It’s important to keep in mind that even if an employee is willing to come back, they may only be accepting the job because they really need one (and are still looking for something better).

-Stephanie Zillman

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