The Boomerang Hire: Your Answer to the Skills Shortage Problem?
- Posted by Joel Okoye
- November 30, 2023
Finding a lasting solution to the industry-wide skills shortage continues to be a challenge for firms in the hiring market today. Despite the evolution that the Great Resignation has sparked in hiring practices across the sector and the many approaches adopted by hiring teams to combat the increasing skills gap, acquiring the talent one needs to keep their business competitive in a cut-throat market proves to be as elusive a pursuit as ever. One approach however that has gained huge traction in recent years amongst firms is the recruitment of Boomerang Hires – a practice that involves rehiring employees who have previously left the organisation – and to employers bereft of options and under pressure to keep their business afloat, it shows a lot of promise.
Why is an ex-hire Worth it?
Purely from a cost perspective, it is a tantalising prospect – as they not only require far less onboarding than your usual new hire but their familiarity with the business’s modus operandi and established dynamics means you get something close to what any recruiting firm is looking for in a new hire – one that slots in seamlessly into the business structure and hits the ground running performance-wise in as short a timeframe as possible. And, in some cases, perhaps the icing on top of the cake is the experience and expertise your firm will be gaining twofold with their return.
Little wonder then that this has quickly become a hit with employers in recent times, and although not a new phenomenon, it’s certainly an increasingly prominent one. A HBR report released this year revealed that 28% of new hires in organisations studied were found to be boomerang hires that had resigned within the past three years. And this isn’t due to the trigger-happy response we’ve now come to expect from employees in the Great Resignation era either – businesses have become not only open but actually intentional about recruiting ex-hires as part of their hiring strategy. When necessity dictates diversity of approach, we begin to see the most interesting of them come to the fore.
There is however, an inherent risk that comes with it, considering the boomerang hire phenomenon cuts both ways for a hiring firm, as any new hire (boomerang employees included) employed is also susceptible to boomeranging back to their previous employer, or in the case of the latter, leaving your firm hung out to dry a second time, and can make retention a very counterproductive and unwelcome by-product of this hiring approach. When discussing the boomerang hire as a solution to the skills gap problem, a few things ought to be kept front of mind. Firstly, how can you avoid being on the wrong side of the boomerang hire equation and secondly, how can you leverage the value it provides to inform a hiring strategy that effectively addresses the skills shortage within your firm?
First Things First
If you are considering going down the boomerang hire route hiring-wise, then know that it requires a significant amount of groundwork to be laid first and should not be viewed as a band-aid fix for a turnover problem. Making an offer convincing enough for an ex-employee to return first requires a thorough understanding of where your firm has missed the mark with regard to employee satisfaction in the past, and what steps must be taken to address it both before and after the boomerang point.
This firstly involves a mutual understanding between management and workers of why employees are leaving in the first place, and acknowledging the part the firm has played in it. The goal of this is to address existing pain points within the company – and in particular, beyond salary and benefits, so as to avoid the trap of making a glorified counteroffer to ex-hires when the time comes to reach out. As research shows that compensation concerns do not tell the full story of why employees opt to leave, and that there are often underlying and unspoken factors at play, the act of encouraging employees to voice out their concerns serves to inform your decision-making and will likely pay off when approaching ex-hires down the line.
Whatever the area of improvement involves, whether that be investing in the professional development and growth of your employees, providing opportunities for upskilling, mentoring programs, and continuous learning initiatives or simply rebuilding the firm culture from the ground up – addressing them not only allows you to perform the open-heart surgery your firm needs, but also sets the foundation for a better overall employee experience and keeps the possibility of any new hires boomeranging to an absolute minimum.
An Open Door Requires Open (and Honest) Communication
This endeavour to maintain an open and honest dialogue between both parties should also be applied at every stage of the leaver process, especially before an employee exit, when they, and particularly their reasons, need to be treated with dignity and respect. A sit-down with departing individuals to discuss and understand what led to their decision, raise concerns, and provide assurances that the door will always be open for them should they wish to return, can be a great way to end the working relationship on a positive note and build the sense of trust and openness that is so crucial for later discourse to be fruitful. Be wary of the classic blame game that can arise in such discussions, as this can sour the relationship and leave a bad aftertaste in the mouths of both parties. Succumbing to the temptation of assigning blame or pointing fingers does your future hiring efforts no good here, even if it may feel like the most natural thing to do in the spur of the moment.
Following this should be a genuine effort to keep the lines of communication open between both parties after departure, in order to extend the quality of the employee experience post-exit and ensure a smooth transition for a return if and when it does happen. This could involve investing in an alumni network of sorts to maintain relationships between existing former employees, provide networking opportunities and most importantly, give ex-hires a means to reconnect with their former employer should the need for it arise.
This is particularly useful when bearing in mind the timing of communication. Research suggests that the one-year anniversary of a former employee’s departure is the optimal time to reconnect and make a re-hire offer. This isn’t only because it’s when they’re most likely to boomerang back to their previous employer, but it’s also because it represents the ideal and least awkward time for employers to take that first step of reaching out. For any employee strongly considering making a 180 in the other direction especially, it can be a godsend.
Protect Your Assets – Old and New
When considering what constitutes a worthwhile offer, this will largely depend on the flexibility of your firm. The key thing to bear in mind here is the balance that must be struck between making an offer worth considering – pay and promotion-wise – and making one that doesn’t come at the expense of your present employees. While it is certainly true that a pay rise can sweeten the deal, it cannot be the meat of the argument pitched to an ex-hire. Failing to keep existing employees front of mind puts the trust, commitment and relationships built at risk, as it sets an unwelcome precedent that anyone within the business can play the victim card, leave the firm high and dry and get away with it with a fatter salary in the end. What is best practice in such scenarios is to make the suggested changes outlined above the heart of your proposal and the crux of the conversation with the ex-employee. Only when this is done with a focus on prioritising equity in the firm, can the boomerang hire approach bring immense value to all parties, new or old.
This same level of care must be taken when looking at the other side of the boomerang hire as a strategy, as largely the same rules apply with new hires, especially considering the amount of overlap between the reasons employees opt to boomerang and the biggest drivers of the Great Resignation today. Any perceived gap between what is promised and what is delivered by new recruits, whether that be explicit contractual breaches or an unspoken violation of agreement terms, is going to get heads turning in the opposite direction wondering if the grass really is greener on the other side. This is particularly important when discussing the more intangible aspects of a contract, such as promotions, benefits, or progression opportunities as these sit at the heart of a legal professional’s demands in the current day and age. When expectations begin to differ from reality here, it becomes increasingly difficult for a new hire leaving behind a lot of social and company capital to justify sticking with their decision and avoid boomeranging.
The best way, therefore, to eliminate this risk and address any issues brewing under the surface is, perhaps unsurprisingly, regular communication between management and new recruits, whether in the form of check-ins or stay interviews, to get a clear picture of what their experience has been so far compared to the specifics of the job pitched to them at the interview. This helps to bring any disparities to light and enables management to address highlighted discrepancies and misunderstandings early before they evolve into actual psychological contract breaches or a growing resentment towards management for a perceived set of broken promises. This can be further buttressed by a conscious effort beforehand to outline to legal candidates what is to be expected from a position on offer in interviews, and ensure the right picture is painted from the onset.
Does the Shoe Fit?
Boomerang hires present a fantastic opportunity for legal employers to approach the skills gap problem from a unique angle – one that offers a lot of value for firms willing to play their cards right and enables them to bolster their workforce without many of the risks that recruiting a new hire carries. But while they are a unique solution, they only tick some of the boxes that a hiring firm will have its eye on and can leave a lot to be desired when applied at scale. They don’t, for example, take into account the changing needs of your firm hiring-wise, the changes that will already have taken place in their absence or how the role has evolved to best serve the business’s needs since they left. Unlike a new hire, who is more malleable at the very start of their tenure, and easier to adapt to firm demands, a boomerang hire will already have their own ways of working set in stone and can become a square peg in a round hole if not considered carefully beforehand.
Second Chances Require a Second Thought
An equally crucial aspect of their return to look at is the state of their relationship with any existing employees and where this leaves your team morale should they be accepted back into the fold. As it is clear from the data that the reasons for an employee’s departure can at times be vague and ambiguous, there is the risk of unearthing old grudges amongst your current workforce if the cause for resignation was a disconnect between an existing and former employee, especially if it was not made clear beforehand by the boomerang hire pre-departure. The phrase ‘fool me twice’ rings true here for any employer with a boomerang hire at or near the top of their candidate shortlist, as they should only be re-hired if it is absolutely clear the second chance will not be squandered. Without a clear picture of what exactly led to their exit, you are potentially jeopardising the trust and stability of your team.
The Only One-Size-Fits-All-Solution
For hiring problems that present a longstanding challenge to law firms looking to add the right skillset to their teams, the services of a specialist legal recruiter are the future-proof solution. The grasp they have on the market and the experience and know-how they possess in sourcing the talent a firm needs, whatever the scale of change present in their hiring practices, provides far more value in the long run than what any boomerang hire can offer. Particularly in a market where change is thrust at us at an extremely rapid rate, the guidance and support they can provide to navigate the hiring process can be invaluable. What the right boomerang hire cannot solve with all its pluses, a specialist recruiter can do with minimal hassle and much, much more.
About Clayton Legal
Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.
If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.