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5 tips for building a culture of boomerang employees

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Boomerang employees are a hot topic in 2023. According to Human Resources Director, uncertainty in the job market and shifting employee expectations has caused boomerang employees to make a comeback.

So what are ‘boomerang employees’ and why are they valuable for organisations?

In our recent webinar, ‘Boomerang Employees: What’s in it for you?’, Xref’s Senior Account Manager Jono McCauley spoke with talent experts Serena Macalister, Talent Acquisition Manager at Nova Systems, and Anna Hodges, End-to-End Talent Leader at Woolworths Group, about all things boomerang employees.

The discussion was rich with insight and first-hand knowledge. The speakers contemplated the pros and cons of rehiring employees, acknowledging both the value they offer organisations and the challenges they pose to employers. You can watch the full discussion on demand here.

In this blog, we will distil one of the most poignant takeaways from the webinar: What can organisations do to build a “boomerang culture”?

What is a boomerang employee?

A boomerang employee (aka a “comeback colleague”) is someone who returns to a company they previously left.

There are many reasons why someone may leave a job: a career change, a new opportunity, a higher-paying role, etc. If previous employees left on good terms, there is no reason why they shouldn’t return to the company in the future if the right opportunity presents itself.

Boomerang employees are on the rise. LinkedIn data shows that 4.5% of new hires in 2021 were boomerang employees, compared to 3.9% in 2019. One explanation is the fallout of the Great Resignation, where a reported one million people quit their jobs. Those who left one company for another may have discovered that the grass was not greener on the other side and missed the culture of their previous workplace.

To understand the reasons why employees leave, organisations should consider implementing a process for existing employees. Xref Exit Surveys enables organisations to gather feedback on various aspects of their culture to determine strengths and areas of improvement.

Why should employers hire boomerang employees?

In the past, employers may have been sceptical about rehiring former employees. “I think that there was this fear and this uncomfortable feeling around, ‘well they’re leaving,’ you know, ‘you're dead to me,’ kind of conversations that used to happen,” reflects Anna Hodges.

However, employers are realising that times have changed, partly because people no longer stay in one job for a long period of time. In fact, research shows that the average tenure of people aged between 25 and 35 is just two years and eight months. When people move companies they expand their expertise.

4 benefits of hiring boomerang employees

There are many advantages of hiring boomerang employees, and our speakers Anna and Serena told us some great reasons why.

1. Boomerang employees already have knowledge of your organisation

Boomerang employees have the knowledge and first-hand experience of your organisation’s values, operations, products and services. 

Anna believes that pre-existing knowledge of a company is a huge plus. “Boomerang employees can just jump back in and know how to get stuff done,” she says.

Xref branded graphic with photograph of Anna Hodges, Talent Leader, Woolworths and quote from her to the right

According to research, it can take eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity. But this is a gamble organisations must take.

However, the time it takes boomerang employees to reach full productivity is much less because they can “pick up where they left off” (depending on their tenure and time away from the company). The onboarding process is also shortened significantly, as Anna highlights. “Every company has slightly different ways of doing things – systems and tools, etc.,” says Anna. “So having the knowledge is a quicker uplift and onboarding back into the organisation.”

Research by Forbes found that boomerang employees typically perform at higher levels than their peers, which is something Serena Macalister has experienced first-hand. In fact, she has found boomerang employees to be more cost-effective than new employees. “The boomerang is more cost-effective because they are pretty much operational from day dot,” she says. “From a consultant perspective, they’re out on tasks, earning billable revenue and that is going straight into the organisation. Someone new might take longer to get up to speed.”

Amy Cotterill, Xref’s Regional Director – Client Development (EMEA), recently ‘boomeranged’ back to us. She shares her experience:

“Starting back at Xref, but in a new role and team, felt so much more comfortable than I expected. I knew who to reach out to so that I could get up to speed quicker in some areas.

Knowing the structure of the company, knowing how we work, systems, etc., made it a much smoother transition back. Not to mention the excitement and appreciation of being welcomed back into the organisation after my recent departure.” 

Xref branded graphic with a photograph of Amy Cotterill, Xref’s Regional Director – Client Development (EMEA) and a quote about her experience as a boomerang employee on the right
2. Boomerang employees already know the company culture

Ex-employees have already been assessed in terms of culture fit, work ethic and skills. Because of this, you can rest assured that they will transition smoothly back into the organisation and re-establish good working relationships with their peers.

For Serena, the culture fit is what will enable boomerang employees to be successful at the company. “It’s understanding the ‘why’ – what we do and why we do it,” she says. “It’s also understanding where to go and who to ask to get information so we can all be successful together by helping one another.”

Having prior knowledge of the ex-employee may also simplify the hiring process, as it may not be necessary to subject them to a behavioural interview or a skills-based assessment

Depending on their reasons for leaving, a couple of informal conversations with relevant team members and a reference check may suffice to streamline the hiring process. With Xref, references are completed online and referees complete their feedback in their own time. They can even save their progress and go back to it at a later date.

It’s also worth noting that rehiring an ex-employee is good for the morale and motivation of current employees and affirms that your organisation is a great place to work. Employees see colleagues returning and it can affirm their decision to stay as we know the grass is not always greener. This then helps boost retention.

3. Boomerang employees reduce recruitment time and spend

It takes 70% of organisations between one and four months to fill a role. That’s a significant resource cost for the talent acquisition (TA) team. Vacant positions may also harm organisational performance and outputs.

Rather than spending hours sourcing and vetting unknown candidates for roles, organisations can tap into a talent pool of former employees. 

“Attracting boomerang talent back into the organisation is one of the many strategies and talent levers that [organisations] should be pulling,” says Anna.

Using Xref, Talent Acquisition (TA) and HR professionals can easily create and filter a talent pool of departed employees by skillsets and core competencies to identify those who would fit an open role well.

Utilising talent pools saves time and money and enables organisations to fill talent gaps quickly. Hiring managers can also tap into their networks of previous colleagues.

4. Boomerang employees bring new skills and perspectives

Boomerang employees return with additional skills, valuable experience and key learnings from other companies, which they can bring back to your organisation.

Xref’s CEO Lee-Martin Seymour recognises the value of boomerang employees in terms of the value they bring back after spending time at other companies.

“I don’t enjoy losing amazing people, but I love it when their Xref experience helps them secure their next big journey, especially if it’s for a career step up with new challenges at a bigger company than Xref.

On many occasions, I have let the person know that there will be a candle in the window of Xref if they ever feel like rejoining the Big Green Bus.

Four senior staff have returned in the past six months. They have brought back big company experience, fresh ideas, and confidence, which is invaluable.” 

5 tips to encourage a “boomerang culture”

Building a “boomerang culture” doesn’t happen overnight and there is no magic bullet to achieving it. However, our speakers had some excellent tips on how to start the boomerang effect.

1. Implement a top-down approach

Like with any major business initiative, building a boomerang culture needs buy-in from the leadership team.

“It has to come from the top, it has to be a business decision,” says Anna. “All of your C-suite leaders need to be in alignment so they can foster the culture in the organisation.”

Serena agreed that fostering a boomerang culture must be a top-down approach. “If your senior management team is not living and breathing it and cascading that down to your managers, it’s not going to catch on,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how much we sing and praise it in the TA team, it’s not going to take off.”

Xref branded graphic with a photograph of Serena Macalister, Talent Acquisition Manager at Nova Systems and her quote about boomerang employees on the right
2. Celebrate success stories

If an employee returns to the company, it should be celebrated. Let the rest of the company know where that employee went and why they came back, as it’s highly motivating to existing employees.

“Share stories about why people come back and what it means to them,” says Serena. “That connection with the human element is, time and time again throughout my career, what connects people to a boomerang culture.”

We even have an award at Nova, which is called The Boomerang Awards,” Serena explains. “So when they come back to us, we present them with an award at our annual conference and celebrate them coming back!” 

“Sharing examples, hearing what it’s all about for them and why it’s so valued or what they get out of it is key in this space,” Serena elaborates.

3. Test and learn

The TA team is in the best position to influence change. They can learn from instances of re-hiring ex-employees and use success stories to gain executive buy-in.

“We’re the best influencers in the business,” says Anna. “We know what we’re doing and we get things done, so use those skills.”

Anna recommends documenting a successful boomerang hire. “Test in a safe environment where there’s a fixed-term contract,” she suggests. 

When the leadership team can see real-life implications, they will be more inclined to enact change from above.

4. Leverage data

Data is crucial for influencing organisational change. By becoming more data-centric, the TA and People and Culture teams can paint a clear picture of the positive impact of boomerang employees.

People and Culture should collect, manage and analyse data around recruitment time and spend (i.e. how long it takes to fill vacant positions with boomerangs versus unknown candidates) as well as performance and productivity.

People and Culture may also lean on qualitative data, such as feedback from hiring managers on the value of rehiring ex-employees.

“Using data to help frame your stories is going to be key to getting a boomerang culture across the line.” – Anna Hodges, End-to-End Talent Leader at Woolworths Group.

Armed with the facts and figures, they can raise the sentiment of boomerangs in the workforce.

5. Make it easy for people to return

When an employee hands in their resignation, the People and Culture team should make it clear that high performers are welcome back at any time.

Serena and Anna both believe that the strategy around boomerang employees should be a partnership between TA, People and Culture, and the hiring managers. 

“I think it's everyone's responsibility within an organisation, to welcome past employees back, but I think it’s a close relationship between talent attraction and the hiring managers as they form those close relationships with our employees,” says Serena. “And then we as TA specialists can make it easy and seamless and move people through the process.”

Xref’s Exit Surveys offer departing employees the option to ‘opt-in’ to being contacted about opportunities at their own company in the future.

By building a talent pool of skilled professionals, where information such as past job titles, skills and core competencies are stored, Xref helps TA teams significantly reduce recruitment costs. It is easy to add the ‘opt-in’ option at the end of an exit survey using Xref Exit Surveys.


There are clear advantages to hiring boomerang employees. They will return with a wealth of knowledge and experience, boost retention and morale, and hit the ground running.

For Serena Macalister and Anna Hodges, building a culture of boomerang employees must come from the top. If you can communicate the value of boomerangs to the Executive team using data and real-life examples, you will have the best chance of influencing positive organisational change.

To watch the discussion in full, check out the webinar on demand.

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