Rehiring an ex-employee… good idea or bad strategy?
The grass may seem greener on the other side but if a former employee wants to return to your company it’s time to ask some difficult questions. Kevin Jarvis, Director at Robert Half, explains what’s involved.

Even with the best retention policies in place, it is inevitable that some of your employees will move on. But these days, farewell doesn’t always mean a lasting goodbye.

The days when it was considered taboo to rehire a former employee are over, and hiring managers should no longer be surprised if an ex-staffer asks to rejoin the fold. This so-called ‘boomerang recruiting’ can have its upsides but it does call for some careful consideration to ensure you aren’t setting the company up for a repeat of the employee’s earlier resignation.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Be mindful of history

A useful starting point is revisiting why the employee left the company in the first place.

It’s one thing if the resignation was prompted by factors beyond their control like the relocation of a spouse or partner. But it’s a very different matter if there was any sort of cloud hanging over the employee’s exit – like, say, conflict with another colleague; a structural problem with senior management; or lack of career progression. Unless the issue at hand has been resolved, or can be addressed reasonably promptly, the partnership is almost certainly doomed for failure.

An exit interview report can shed some light on reasons for leaving but bear in mind, employees don’t always reveal the true reasons for their departure.

2. What’s the motivation?

Don’t be afraid to ask a former employee about their motive for returning to your company. It needs to be a compelling reason because you don’t want to risk the person leaving a second time. Not only can your company (again) lose a potentially valuable resource, you also risk causing reputational damage within, and outside, your workplace.

3. Are you taking the easy option?

Rehiring a former employee can be a compelling option. You know the person, they know the business, and they may have skills that are just right for the role. So it’s a solution that saves time, cuts onboarding costs and speeds up the recruitment process. The downside of this quick-fix solution is that you could end up overlooking other candidates who are better able to fill the role, and who could well go on to become loyal, long-term employees.

4. Look at the skill set

Specialist or niche skills can be difficult to recruit for, and former employees may not only be familiar with the role, they generally don’t need a lot of training and can hit the ground running. They may also have gained additional skills or experience since their departure. This can mean it is in the company’s best interest to rehire top former employees. Their additional experience might be the valuable asset your company needs.

5. Understand the past cannot be revisited

It can be enriching for your company and a former employee to reunite once again, and if the former staffer was a popular star performer, the rehire can also boost team morale.

However, times change and so do people and workplaces. Be sure your ex-employee is aware of any major changes that have occurred since he or she moved on. Your company may no longer offer international transfers or provide benefits like free gym membership, and once-familiar faces may no longer be with the company.

On the flipside, consider the impact of a rehire on your current team. Is it going to ruffle the feathers of long-term staff members if a former employee is given what may be seen as a second chance to progress at their expense? Be sure that on balance, the pluses of rehiring a former employee outweigh the potential downsides.

6. Rehiring? If yes, start afresh

If, after weighing up the pros and cons, you decide to rehire a former employee, be prepared to start with a clean slate and put the past behind you. Embarking on a new beginning with energy and a fresh perspective can allow every member of your team to collaborate and succeed. Carrying baggage from the past will undoubtedly impact your professional relationship and the business as a whole.

As a final tip, it is always worthwhile maintaining some level of contact with former top employees. Several avenues make this possible, including networking, social media or personal contact. It’s a smart way to stay up-to-date with the professional development of former staff members and can go a long way to ensure the recruitment process 2.0 goes smoothly.