Facing a talent crunch and high workforce churn, the human resources division in corporates are waking up to the reality of a new type of candidate circling the hiring pool: the boomerang employee - someone who left an organisation, and now wants to return.
In a recent survey covering more than 1,800 human resource (HR) professionals, managers and employees fielded in the US by Kronos Inc and Workplace Trends, 76 per cent HR professionals said they are more accepting of hiring former employees than they were five years ago. Managers agreed, as nearly two-thirds said they were more accepting of hiring back former colleagues. Moreover, employees also reported feeling less anxious about returning to a company, with 40 per cent of those surveyed saying they would consider boomeranging.
Though conducted in the US, the findings of the survey reflect a general change in the corporate mindset about boomerang employees. Back home, in India too, organisations are warming up to hiring back employees who quit for some reason earlier. Organisations such as MakeMyTrip, SapientNitro, Apollo Hospitals Enterprises and Ford Motor Company - Global Business Services are among those who are actively wooing ex-employees. Pointing out the reasons why many people want to join back the company they left, Gangapriya Chakraverti, director, human resources, Ford Motor Company, Global Business Services, says, "The comfort of going back to a known set up is a key driver for a growing number of employees looking to get back. The lack of appropriate due diligence before taking up a new job offer often leads to dissatisfaction. At a time like that, the sheer thought of going back to old colleagues and a familiar ecosystem certainly provides a lot of comfort to employees."
On their part, many organisations are actively looking out for former talented employees with more experience and additional skills to join back and accelerate organisational growth. For Prashant Bhatnagar, vice-president (VP), hiring and staffing, SapientNitro, India, industries that experience greater movement of talent or face a dearth of experience are the ones that have the highest percentage of boomerang employees.
"If the employee who has left has a good record of performance and if he or she has left the organisation on a pleasant note, there is no reason why we wouldn't welcome an employee back," says, Vijay Deshpande, VP and head HR, JK Tyre & Industries India and Mexico Business.
The stigma attached to people who left a company or are looking out for greener pastures is beginning to fade. So what are the reasons why organisations are looking out for erstwhile employees so aggressively? More importantly, what are the pitfalls an organisation should look out for when considering ex-employees for a particular job?
The retention issue
Time and again, a number of surveys have identified employee retention as the top concern for human resources departments. However, in a volatile job market, organisations cannot help avoid losing employees to competition. Across industries and organisations, hiring a new employee involves cost and time. A new hire needs to be familarised with the organisational culture and has to be trained and supervised. In the case of boomerang employees, organisations stand to gain significant savings in terms of cost, time and effort put into familarising the individual with the work culture. Such employees are job ready and in a stronger position to deliver the results from the word go.
According to Jacob Jacob, chief people officer, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, it might not be possible to put an exact value to the benefit involved in hiring a boomerang employee, but some of the advantages are savings in hiring costs (since most of them directly approach the HR or the concerned manager when they wish to join back); savings on on-boarding and induction costs, instant cultural fitment; quick familiarisation with the system and processes; fruitful and quicker rapport with colleagues, the team, internal stakeholders and the leadership; and a shorter learning curve. According to some estimates, organisations that hire boomerang employees can save upto 60 per cent on their overall hiring costs.
While, there are a number of advantages in keeping the doors open for former employees, boomerang employees entering an old workplace also throw up multiple challenges for an organisation. One of the key challenges relates to meeting the boomerang employees' remuneration expectation. Former employees, having gained new skills and more experience while they were away from their organisations, in general, expect to draw higher compensation and have a bigger title/role when they reach out to their former employers. Such expectations have the potential of creating a pay disparity among existing employees or with their former team mates who had preferred to stay back with the company while their colleague went out looking for greener pastures.
So what sort of checks and balances should an organisation put in place so that loyal employees do not feel disenchanted? Apollo's Jacob says, "To ensure that a culture of rebounding for a higher pay does not set in, an evaluation is done for boomerang employees based on the tenure of separation, estimated salary if he or she had stayed with the organisation, internal parity on similar roles and with peers. Also, the new role offered has to correspond to the tenure of separation without major deviation but at the same time should be with reference to his or her position in the current organisation." He points out that such exercises are done on a case-to-case basis and depend on many other factors. Net-net, the focus is on ensuring that a boomerang employee does not disrupt the parity in the system. For example, at JK Tyre & Industries, the compensation offered to boomerang employees is in line with their last compensation plus the increment he or she would have earned if he/she had stayed back. Efforts are made to ensure the boat is not rocked.
With all the advantages that the boomerang employees offer, for organisations to hire back the best talent, it is important to have a clearly defined rehiring policy. For one, MakeMyTrip has been quick to recognise the advantages offered by boomerang employees and the organisation has a policy called 'Ghar Wapsi' which is solely aimed at encouraging former employees to return. Emphasising the importance of having a well-defined policy for boomerang employees, Yuvaraj Srivastava, chief of HR, says, "The concept of boomerang employees is not new to India Inc. With organisations putting strong processes around it, the phenomenon has become a reality for a larger number of organisations. For an idea or concept to succeed, strong support processes are indispensable."
Chakraverti of Ford asserts that ensuring parity in terms of hiring grade and salary are some of the concerns that one needs to look out for while taking back former employees. For instance, JK Tyre & Industries does regular industry benchmarking to ensure that all employees are valued based on their experience and expertise. Deshpande of JK Tyre & Industries and Srivastava of MakeMyTrip assert that one needs to be careful in managing expectations in case of boomerang employees. For example, if the employee left a long time ago, there is a risk that the organisation might have changed from what it was during her earlier stint. In such situations, there could be dissonance in expectations in terms of culture and processes making it challenging to meet the requirements of such employees.
In fact, it is to address this challenge that organisations such as SapientNitro, while hiring former employees, are ensuring they have a clear view of how and in what ways the organisational structure and culture has changed in his or her absence. The company focuses on educating them about the changes to help them align their expectations with the present day reality.
Why boomerang employees are a blessing
In our opinion, boomerang employees should be welcomed back. The compelling factor for these individuals is that they miss their old job. This is why it is important to induce them back into your organisation. Look at the advantages: These people know your company, they know their work and they know your culture. There are no additional costs involved in ensuring that these employees deliver. Moreover, you save yourself the hassle of training them from scratch. I'm not saying that you don't need to invest in these people. Remember that they left your organisation for a reason and you should try to address the issues that drove them out. However, in comparison to a new hire, getting a boomerang employee on-board can make your life a lot easier.
Typically a new hire takes about 45-60 days to settle down and understand the organisation's networks and culture. A boomerang employee would save the company this additional time. If you save two months of a new employee's 'settling-in period', that works out to 16.6 per cent savings for the company.
Organisations must adopt a systematic approach to ensure that they maintain a culture where boomerang employees are a positive factor. The manner in which the leadership team of an organisation treats these individuals also sends out a message to the rest of their workforce. When people return, the existing employees also realise that there is "something worth returning to" in your organisation.
The writing is on the wall. If you are an employer who isn't working actively to leverage the benefits of employees who return to your organisation, then you really must act on it immediately.
Director, Hay Group India