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Boomerang employees are back

News Analysis
Jan 30, 20066 mins
Data CenterIT Leadership

As demand for IT skills ramps up, consider former employees as your next new hires.

If you are among the fortunate IT departments anticipating adding staff in 2006, industry watchers advise you to look close to home when recruiting.

Rehiring previous employees is a trend that’s going to be in full swing in 2006, considering that more than half of 100 U.S. organizations polled in 2005 by Right Management Associates said they would hire a former staff member. That number is expected to grow this year, as IT departments’ demand for specific skill sets and technology experience ramps up.

“We have noticed an increased appreciation for the boomerang or rebound employee in the past year or so. Companies believe the previous experience with and knowing the employee reduces the risk of a bad hire,” says Joyce Gioia, president at The Herman Group, a consulting and research firm that specializes in workforce issues. If an alumni organization or outreach program for valued former employees doesn’t already exist, your company should establish one, Gioia says. That way, former employees are aware of open positions, and all the information needed to rehire staff quickly is readily available.

David Rahbany, an employee of Celestial Seasonings in Boulder, Colo., says his return to the company had more to do with luck than any formal outreach program. He left the organization in 2000 following its acquisition by The Hain Food Group (now The Hain Celestial Group), because he feared the corporate culture he was accustomed to would change. He also wanted to take advantage of the then-IT boom while he had the chance.

“I was eager to pursue other IT-related fields before the bubble burst. Couple that with my concerns over the culture after we were acquired, and it just made sense to move on,” Rahbany says.

But he didn’t stay away long. About a year later, unsatisfied with the culture at his new company, Rahbany ran into his former employer, Mo Siegel, founder of Celestial Seasonings, at a hardware store. He told Siegel he wished he had never left and was happy to hear Siegel was willing to check for new opportunities within the company.

When Rahbany left, he was the systems administrator; he returned as an IT analyst. He says his role changed from managing computers and servers to focusing more on integration projects for the company as a whole. For example, when the company acquired other companies, he says, “I would integrate their networks into ours as well as their sales data into [our] centralized reporting systems.” Although his responsibilities had grown and he was more challenged, he also was back with a familiar group of co-workers.

“It was a nice relief to get back with some of the people I had worked with and to return to the corporate culture I liked. It hadn’t changed,” Rahbany says.

He advises IT workers to consider carefully why they want to leave an employer before they make the leap. If they can increase their value in terms of IT skills and experience at a new company, it could be a good reason to leave and to keep their old company in mind for future job changes.

“The truth is if I didn’t leave the first time, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come back, because at the time my current position didn’t exist and I didn’t have the experience to do it,” he says. “But I did learn that the problems that are typical in any organization will follow you wherever you go.”

Bringing back employees appears to be company policy at Celestial Seasonings. According to Stephanie Thibault, benefits manager in the company’s HR department – and a boomerang employee herself – 27 staffers, or about 11% of the nearly 250 employees, are boomerang hires.

“The company benefits, because employees have more appreciation for their company when they choose to come back,” she says. “They are also more well-rounded and are easier to integrate into our systems and operations.”

Carl Youngren’s case is a bit different. He retired as a systems programmer in the information-systems division at the state of California’s Health and Human Services Data Center in Sacramento, but says at age 60, he soon realized it wasn’t the life style for him. Youngren’s employer took him back on a part-time, salary-only basis (he doesn’t work enough hours to get full benefits), because Youngren’s mainframe skills are hard to replace in today’s pool of job candidates.

“I have the technical and institutional knowledge that the organization needs right now,” he says. “I have more people in the training pipeline, so they don’t find themselves at a loss for these skills in the future.”

As a rebound retiree, Youngren says, he has the best of both worlds. “I can keep my technical knowledge up to date and focus on those areas of expertise, and still work part time,” he says. “It’s hard for us tech types to quit jobs cold turkey.”

According to Right Management, an organization benefits in numerous ways when a former employee returns. For one, a former employee is more likely – and more quickly – to adapt positively. Such employees are familiar with the company and with how things work, and they know what is expected of them.

“Companies have become more aware of the potential costs of bad hiring decisions, including having to readvertise for and recruit candidates, paying fees to recruiters, losing business income, decreased productivity and potential, and wrongful-termination suits,” says Brian Clapp, a vice president with Right Management, in a statement.

Whether an employee departed as the result of a layoff or decided to explore an opportunity at a different company, IT hiring managers should keep an open mind when they’re filling vacant slots in their shops. “Companies should never really let valued employees fall out of touch or hold their leaving the company against them; if they left on good terms, they will most likely return more valuable than when they left,” Herman Group’s Gioia says. The time spent at another company could in some cases be considered training in new skills. “Many employees leave to get experience in a new area that maybe there wasn’t an opportunity to get at their former employer. If they return, the employer gets the additional knowledge as well,” Gioia adds.