Former Employees: Should You Welcome Them Back?

I ran into Henry at the neighborhood Trader Joe’s. It had been a while since we last spoke and we had to laugh because both of us had been sent on a shopping mission by our wives.

Henry had built a very successful IT consulting firm and landed some big accounts in the past two years. When I asked him how business was going his demeanor turned to one of frustration. “We’ve been growing nicely but there is so much more we could be doing if I had the right people in a couple of key positions,” Henry said.  “Isn’t it crazy!” I replied, “We have such low unemployment in the U.S. and about 6 million jobs that can’t be filled. You’re really in a battle for the best and the brightest.”

“Do you have anything frozen in your cart? Why don’t we go have a coffee at Starbucks and talk about your problem? Do you have a few minutes?” I asked.

Henry replied, “I guess my kids will have to do without ice cream tonight! Let me put this stuff back and meet you over at Starbucks.”

As we settled down and started drinking our coffees, Henry explained the effort and cost he had invested in trying to hire some top talent to fill important vacancies in his firm. Nothing seemed to work. He was willing to pay above the market, offer outstanding benefits and give his employees incredible workplace flexibility. Still, he wasn’t having any success.

I’d seen this problem time and again with some of my clients so I asked Henry the following question that I hoped would open another option: “Henry, what do you think Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and LeBron James all have in common?”  He replied: “Well of course, they are all super successful and mega rich. Why do you ask?”

“Sure, you’re right on that but there is one other thing that all three did: they left and then returned to their former employer,” I said.  “Today, you’d call these type of people ‘boomerang’ employees,” I said.  “Have you ever had a stellar employee leave your company and join a competitor or maybe move to a new industry?” I asked.

“Sure, I’ve lost a couple of really good guys that I wish would still be with me now,” Henry lamented.  “Did they leave on good terms and are you still in contact with them today?”  I asked.  “I guess you would say that they left on good terms. Two of them got really good offers that honestly, I wouldn’t have passed up. One bright lady left on maternity leave because she was expecting twins. To your second question, no, I’m not in contact with them today, why do you ask?” Henry questioned.

“Hey, don’t you remember what I just said about LeBron and Steve Jobs? They left and boomeranged back. Maybe you could get one of these top performers to come back to your company, too!” I said.  Henry replied, “Well maybe, but I’m not sure that it would work or that they’d be a good fit for my company.”  “It doesn’t seem like you are having much success finding employees the old fashion way; why not think this through?” I asked.  “Here are a couple of things that speak for rehiring a good employee that left your firm on good terms”:

  • You’ll save a bunch of money because you’re not engaging an executive search firm.
  • You’re bringing someone back that knows your culture, speaks your lingo and understands your organization’s mission and vision.
  • The rehired employee will boost office morale because his/her return is telling your current employees, “I left but I’m coming back to a great company.”
  • The returning employee might be bringing back some new skills they’ve learned that your company can benefit from.
  • And, they just might be able to bring you some good client contacts.

I could see the wheels turning in Henry as I outlined the pros of rehiring a former employee.  Then I suggested, “Henry, when you get back to the office why don’t you jump on LinkedIn and find out where these former employees are today? It might be worthwhile to send them an email and invite them for a coffee.”  He nodded and said, “For sure, I’ll do that.”  “Great, let me know how it goes. If you have any luck, I just might want to write a blog about your experience!” I said.