This company doesn’t just welcome former employees back into the fold, it actively encourages them to return.
An employee with a 25 year tenure under his belt decided it was time to move on from his organisation. He left to pursue what he thought would be a senior role with a global IT firm, only to discover the role was actually quite junior. Candidate regret started to kick in, but he was determined to battle on. A few months later a massive wave of redundancies came crashing down on the company and, unfortunately, he was a casualty.
It was at this point he turned back to his former employer, Kronos – a billion dollar company that produces workforce management software, human capital management technology and cloud solutions.
The company’s global CEO, Aron Ain, had a decision to make. He could have smugly sent this employee (or Kronite, as they like to call themselves) packing. The employee had stepped away from an opportunity to work for an organisation consistently gracing prestigious lists such as ‘Great Places to Work’ and Fortune Magazine’s ‘100 Best Companies To Work For’. But Ain didn’t do that. Instead, this employee was welcomed back with open arms, and he’s not the only one.
This particular anecdote was shared in Ain’s new book Work Inspired: How to build an organization where everyone loves to work, and when I met with him earlier this week, he said that roughly 250 of his employees are ‘boomerangs’. In fact, they actively seek them out on the recruitment stream of their website.
“My head of HR is a boomerang,” says Ain. “He strategised with me about whether he should take a new job [which was offering him a lot more money], but something seemed off about the amount they were offering him. It seemed too much for the role he was going to do.”
Three weeks into his new role, the former head of HR called Ain for a chat. Ain assumed he was going try and poach one of his Kronites, and went into the conversation with his hackles up. It turned out he was just unhappy in his new role, and wanted to come back to Kronos. Five years down the track, he’s still working as the company’s HR head.
The matter of facts
The boomerang employee has been a rising phenomenon in the recruitment space for some time now. A Kronos study from 2015 surveyed 1,800 HR professionals, people managers, and employees in the US. The findings showed that half of the HR managers surveyed said their organisations used to have policies against re-hiring former employees, but 76 per cent are now more accepting of this.
Eighty-five per cent of the HR professionals said they received job applications from previous employees from 2010-2015, and 40 per cent proceeded to re-hire these candidates.
It also seems the old saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” might ring true, with managers (51 per cent) and HR professionals (56 per cent) saying they’d give “high or very high priority” to a former employee who left the organisation on good terms.
Taking a look at the employee perspective, only 15 per cent reported being a boomerang themselves, but 40 per cent admitted they’d consider trying to go back to a previous employer. This statistic differs for various ages. For Millennials, 46 per cent would consider returning to an old employer, whereas only 33 per cent of Gen Xers and 29 per cent of Baby Boomers would do the same.
Why re-hire a rebound employee?
You don’t own your employees’ careers. That’s Ain’s go-to statement around boomerang employees. It a progressive way of thinking, reminiscent of the Swedish Right to Leave to Conduct a Business Operation Act (tjänstledighet leave) that HRM recently reported on.
Employees are encouraged to go out and try something new. The difference being the Swedish approach is legislated, Kronos’ approach is a choice.
“I don’t want [employees] to leave, but people are allowed to go try different things. If they come and say they’re going to leave, we work really hard to convince them not to. But if they decide to leave, we wish them well. If I have an opportunity to talk to them, I make believe that I’m like a little birdie on their shoulder, whispering in their ear, ‘You can come back. You can come back’,” says Ain.
He says that boomerang employees are “unbelievably loyal”. You’ve only got to look to the examples above to see that.
Brendan Browne, vice president of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn relayed the benefits of re-hiring former staff in his article for the Business Insider.
“Boomerangs can be exceptionally valuable to a company’s growth because they’re already familiar with its culture. There is an established employee-employer relationship that adds another layer of employee loyalty to the company, which in turn leads to increased retention.
“Boomerangs that have been away for a few years also have direct business value, as they bring with them new experiences, connections, points-of-view, and even potential customers,” says Browne.
This approach might be unconventional, but it’s not uncommon. Companies like Microsoft, Deloitte and JP Morgan all focus on retaining relationships with their alumni in the hopes they might one day return. Perhaps your organisation does too?
Risks to double-dipping
The immediate red flag for some people might be the issue of diminishing your diversity of thought at an organisational level by double-dipping into your existing talent pool. If an employee has been with an organisation for 25+ years, maybe it’s time for them to move on and pave the way for someone new who can bring fresh ideas to the company.
There is such a thing as healthy turnover. In fact, it’s a philosophy that Netflix lives by. The online streaming giant practices what it calls a “keeper test” whereby managers ask themselves, “If John said he was going to move onto a new organisation, would I stop him?” If the answer is ‘no’, unfortunately, John will be shown the door. It might seem like a harsh way to manage the performance of your staff, but apparently it works.
Under the ‘culture’ section of Netflix’s job site, it reads: “We have no bell curves or rankings or quotas such as ‘cut the bottom 10% every year’. That would be detrimental to fostering collaboration… We focus on managers’ judgment through the “keeper test” for each of their people.
“Those who do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are promptly and respectfully given a generous severance package so we can find someone for that position that makes us an even better dream team. Getting cut from our team is very disappointing, but there is no shame. Being on a dream team can be the thrill of a professional lifetime.”
Former Netflix HR chief, Patty McCord (who is speaking at this year’s AHRI National Convention and Exhibition) was instrumental in leading this approach which famously saw her own job on the chopping block. While this upset McCord, she also had to practice what she had spent so long preaching.
“If you are going to have a high performance culture, then you have to get rid of the notion of retention,” she told the New York Times. “You have to fire some really nice, hard-working people. But you have to do it with dignity.”
“You don’t own your employees’ careers. That’s Ain’s go-to statement around boomerang employees.”
Easy for people to leave?
Returning to Kronos, you might also wonder what process these ex-employees go through in order to rejoin the fold.
Does a fresh candidate stand a chance up against an ex-Kronite? Do they go through the same interview process? Ain says ex-employees don’t take preference, but they also don’t have to be interviewed (again) for the role.
“Why should we go through the process of opening up a search and doing a deep interview when [an ex-employee] can fill the job immediately? We know these people are a sure thing; they’re performers. That’s the dominant reason why [we invite them back],” says Ain.
He says some CEOs think this boomerang approach is “crazy”. They think he’s making it too easy for people to walk away, believing they’ve got a sure thing waiting for them back at Kronos.
Kronos’ data seems to back-up this concern, with nearly one-third of HR professionals and managers worrying that boomerang employees might leave again, and one-quarter believing these employees might come back with the same baggage that caused them to leave in the first instance.
Ain acknowledges this is a valid concern, but says the slight risk of this happening is far less than the benefits he’s witnessed. He also makes a point of saying that not everyone who leaves will be welcomed back. The timing has to be right; the stars have to align, so to speak.
There are both benefits and risks to rehiring an employee who chose to walk away, but that’s true of most things in life. Let’s finish with a quote from Kronos’ chief people officer, David Almeda. Yes, the one who boomeranged back into the organisation himself (they call him ‘the ultimate boomerang’).
“No one organisation is the right fit for every employee and vice versa. Sometimes making a change is the best thing for both the employee and the employer.
“The best boomerang strategy for forward-thinking organisations is to ensure that employees are engaged and feel appreciated while at work – that way if employees decide to leave to explore other career options, the organisation will be on the short list of employer options if their career situation changes and they are looking for a more positive opportunity,” Almeda says.
Do you have an interesting story about a boomerang employee to share? Let us know in the comment section below.
Want to hear more from Patty McCord about culture and reconsidering “best practice”? Register to hear her speak at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in September this year. Early bird registration now available.