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Boomerangs In the Workforce

boomerang employee

It’s not something easily measured, but some watching the job market see an increase in boomerangs–employees who leave a company and later get rehired.

Leaving a job often used to mean closing a door forever, but companies are beginning to soften that hard line. The days of working for a single company until you retire with a gold watch and a pension are long over, so it makes sense that companies who are not “loyal,” to employees are letting go of the idea that employees have to be “loyal” to them. Younger workers expect to have as many as 11 jobs during their careers, and workers of all ages are moving toward more of a free agent or entrepreneurial mindset.

In a recent academic study published in Personnel Psychology, about 20 percent of the 15,000 employees were boomerangs. Compared to alumni–employees who left for good–boomerangs were more likely to leave their jobs for specific reasons, such as having a baby or going to graduate school. They also tended to be younger when they left. “…Boomerangs quit earlier than Alumni in their original tenure, paradoxically suggesting that employees who quit earlier may be the very employees who will return in the future,” the authors wrote.

Technology is also playing a role.  Social media and online communities have made it easier for people to stay in touch, and that includes with former colleagues. Keeping your name top of mind means former employers will think of you when a position opens up. Companies that expand their definition of insiders to former employers may find it easier to fill an open position with someone who is already known—and knows the company and its culture.

Some companies still frown on returnees, particularly those who have left for a competitor. But the lesson remains that when you decide to pursue a new path, leave your current employer in the most professional way possible. A few years down the road, you may want the door to swing open again.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.