Boomerang hires are on the rise in South Africa

Boomerang rehires are on the rise as the skills shortage starts to bite, says Diane van Zyl, senior people manager at Altron Karabina.

“No one would argue that the world of work has changed, quite possibly forever. This is not to reiterate tired cliches such as ‘the new normal’, but rather to accept that the pandemic has radically shifted how people perceive balance and job satisfaction, while technological leaps have enabled businesses to embrace remote and hybrid working, effectively making geography less important than culture.”

Van Zyl said that those who manage and interact with the people who make businesses tick understand that we are in a global talent tsunami, where skilled people are leaving employment in record numbers. This is compounded in South Africa where the existing skills shortage is exacerbated by the so-called brain drain, making the retention of staff one of the most important strategic imperatives for all employers.

There’s another human resources trend that’s certainly not new, but definitely gaining momentum, she said. “Boomerang rehires are when talent leaves a company and then rejoins at a later stage. This can be as soon as a few weeks or months or after a year or more.

“Managed correctly, boomerang rehires offer people managers and companies a unique opportunity to cope with the skills tsunami and crippling skills shortage in the country while enjoying the benefits of lower operational costs.”

How prevalent is the concept becoming globally?

A study by Workplace Trends found that 15% of employees have “boomeranged” back to a former employer, while a  recent Wall Street Journal article shared insights from LinkedIn: “LinkedIn data shows that boomerang workers have increased across the companies on its platform this year, with tens of thousands more people returning to old employers”.

LinkedIn added that it has also embraced its own boomerangs, with the site doubling the number of new hires who were also former employees compared with 2019.

The next, obvious, question is “why”? Why do these staff leave, only to return. “There is no single answer to this question but there certainly are a few trends. First, we must delineate between employees that leave on bad terms – for whatever reason – and those that depart on good terms, leaving the company poorer for their exit,” said Van Zyl.

“The latter group often cites wanting to grow or spread their wings. Sometimes it may be more money, but most often it is to do with career advancement, broadening their horizons and seeing what the grass on the other side looks and feels like.”

Once an employee has had the opportunity to see that the grass is not greener on the other side they are more likely to become engaged employees that grow with the company. In other words, they’ve already given in to the temptation of a promise and experienced that first-hand, compared to the family they know well, the executive said.

“Obviously, the core objective should be staff retention and not the process of rehiring someone who has resigned. Here, business unit leads, line managers and people managers have an important role to play. Behaviour changes, particularly with their immediate team members but also with the company in general, can signal a change in the employee’s attitude and passion.

“In short, it can signal whether someone wants to be where they are and empowers a business to stay ahead of the curve.”

Van Zyl said that companies should be realistic and appreciate that in an environment of acute skills shortages, employees will be approached and possibly poached. “We keep the communication channels open and let them know that should they ever be unhappy, they know where to find their family.”

“Managed carefully, and with the requisite planning and foresight, a boomerang rehire certainly does have advantages for a business. However, without a clear understanding of why the employee left and what has or hasn’t changed with their expectations, they present a risk to the stability of teams who may be unsettled by the revolving door.”


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Boomerang hires are on the rise in South Africa