Have you checked the deep end of the labor pool lately? Take a look. You may see some people you already know. Why? Because they used to work for you.
“People have been leaving and returning to employers for many years, but it’s gaining popularity as a viable recruitment strategy in our tight labor market,” said Chandra Pappas, executive vice president of Sonoma-based Nelson Staffing. “Because there are many advantages to bringing back high performers, employers are more invested in the idea versus assuming employees who leave are gone forever.”
The advantages of hiring a “boomerang” worker, as the term has been coined, are many.
“Former employees are familiar with the organization, have valuable company-specific experience, and usually bring a fresh perspective and newly acquired skills,” Pappas said. “Also, depending on how long someone was employed, they may not need as much training as a new hire, which can save employers time and money, especially if the employee starts producing quickly.”
That was the case when Nelson rehired Aaron Burriesci, division director of the technology arm of the staffing firm. He first joined Nelson in 2000 fresh out of college, and stayed for eight years, earning a promotion along the way. In 2008, he took his expertise and started his own recruiting firm.
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“I think for me, I saw a path where Nelson had taken me to a point where I was really interested in going out of my own,” Burriesci said.
After 10 years, he began weighing the benefits of being a small business owner versus full-time employment.
“It’s a massive task to run your own company (but) there also was an amazing work-life balance as well,” said the father of four boys. “In the last three years of working on my own, I had been consulting directly with some companies and one of my last projects had run out.”
Burriesci said he had a good run, but also had grown tired of the entrepreneurial life, which he noted can be lonely at times. He began searching for a full-time job and interviewed at several companies, including Nelson, which ultimately offered him a “dynamic” benefits package and the opportunity to again lead a team and rejoin many of his former colleagues.
In return, Nelson got a more experienced professional with more life experience under his belt.
“I definitely think I came back with a little bit more polish than I had before,” Burriesci said. “And I went from being newly married with a baby to a grown man with four children.”
Burriesci reached out to his former employer, but what can employers proactively do to maximize their chances of luring a prized worker back to the company?
“First and foremost, keep in touch, especially with those high performers who would add value if they returned,” Pappas said. “Continue to follow people on social
media and stay engaged in their posts.”
A number of organizations have formed alumni groups, or created one on LinkedIn, which Pappas recommended as a key strategy.
And good old-fashioned word of mouth can be crucial if the business itself is evolving.
“Constantly improve and form a collaborative company culture,” Pappas added. “Your internal employees will spread the word.”
Since rejoining Napa’s Cliff Lede Winery in 2019, Janet Llamas has been promoted three times. She came back to the winery as director of finance and early last year was elevated to the role of vice president of finance. In October, she was named CFO.
But Llamas’ journey with Cliff Lede began in 2004.
“When I started out there, I was fresh out of college with really no accounting work experience,” Llamas said. “I learned a lot, but quickly on I figured out that if I wanted to move up in the food chain, I probably needed to (work in) public accounting.”
Llamas subsequently worked at two public accounting firms: Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP for five years, then at Moss Adams for nearly four years.
During her years in public accounting, Llamas not only kept in touch with her former CFO, she also did some auditing work for the winery.
“That was kind of cool because I got to see the company from a different perspective (than) being inside,” said Llamas, who is married with two daughters. In 2018, Cliff Lede acquired a new property and needed to bolster its accounting team.
“So he reached out to me and the timing was good,” said Llamas, who had broadened her resume beyond public accounting. She had since worked for Clos Du Val Winery and Stagecoach Vineyards. “I was excited to go back (to Cliff Lede) and share everything that I had learned, and I really felt prepared to do that.”
“The (architects) who have left either went off to start their own businesses or went to work for a different firm to see what that was like,” Quattrocchi said. “When they come back after having done this, they learned something about themselves or about the profession that better connects them to our firm. So from my perspective, they are all the more certain they’re in the right place for them when they come back.”
Quattrocci also noted a specific advantage with some of the boomerangers.
“I actually find that people who went to start off their own business and came back are some of the best employees,” said Quattrocchi, “because they understand what it’s like trying to run your own business in a way that truly nobody else could.”
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Proceed with caution
Employers who have an opportunity to bring back a former employee also need to be clear-eyed, said Nicole Serres, president of Petaluma-based Star Staffing. Sometimes it’s not in the best interest of the employer.
“At the current time, employers are more desperate for staff and out of desperation may not make the best decision in why they are bringing an employee back,” Serres said. “Are they bringing them back because they are desperate to fill a role, or because the former employee will bring value in productivity, company culture and more?”
It’s also important to keep in mind why an employee initially left the organization.
“Has that reason been solved? Sometimes the rest of the team is happy to have the returning employee, but other times they are not,” she said.
Pappas learned firsthand that bringing back a former employee isn’t always the best course of action.
“I’ve hired people in the past because it was a quick fix, but it wasn’t a good long-term fit for the employee or the company,” she said. “Rehiring an employee should be a strategic, long-term hiring decision, not a short-term, quick fix.”
In addition, a former employee may not anticipate how the company has changed over time, Pappas said.
“Before rehiring someone, the employer must ask if the person fits in with a newer culture, different performance expectations or updated business models,” she said.
So how might an employer effectively dissuade a valuable worker who has just turned in his or her resignation?
“I think that the first thing to do is really understand why they are resigning, and how they came to this decision,” said Sarah Cush, regional vice president for Robert Half’s North Bay operations. “Making the decision to resign from an organization is not something that people often do overnight; it’s usually months in the making.”
Once the employer fully understands the motivating factors behind the resignation, whether it’s compensation, job responsibilities, career growth or something else, it’s easier to determine if there is a way to retain the employee, she noted.
But if the employee leaves anyway, maybe they will indeed come back.
“I had a CEO who used to say: ‘The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence,’” said Pappas. “And this is something people often realize only after they’ve left.”
Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at email@example.com or 707-521-4259.
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