Return of the boomerang employee - The Week in HR

26 August 2016

Would you hire a former employee? Many would respond to this question by asking whether they were any good the first time around. But some employers are wary of re-recruiting ex-employees. Why should you consider taking back someone who has left for greener pastures?

A recent study suggests that companies are increasingly willing to hire these boomerang employees. More than four fifths of HR executives reported that they are more accepting of hiring ex-employees than they were three years ago. And it's clear why.

A 2014 report found that it costs on average £30,000 to replace an employee. A key part of this cost is how much time and resource it takes to 'onboard' new staff. This involves training in the culture, systems and practices of their new firm and is far more involved than a few I.T. training sessions.

By contrast, boomerang employees are already familiar with the business and so are more able to hit the ground running, producing a return on the employee investment in a far shorter time.

Combine this saving with the rising costs of recruitment and a widely reported skills shortage across most sectors and it just makes good financial sense to bury the company pride and hire a known entity. Better the devil you know.

But it's not all good news for those who have left in haste and repented at work. The same study found that, while the vast majority of HR executives were willing to rehire someone who had previously left their role, just 36% had actually done so, and 25% said that they would not do so again.

The study did not elaborate on these findings but it may be that candidates are rather less enamoured with the concept of returning to the fold than their employers, with a minority of those that do return doing so for the wrong reasons.

So how can you encourage a successful boomerang culture? First recognise that encouraging ex-employees to return is not a short term strategy, you need to invest in and treat your employees well in the first place.

After all, only a foolish candidate would return to a swamp when they have a muddy field to languish in. Second, as in any recruitment decision, ensure that you understand the motives of the boomerang employee.

While there's no place like home, sometimes familiarity really can breed contempt or at least an element of laziness. Finally, be aware of the impact on your existing staff - cost savings can rapidly diminish when pitted against resentment that an unpopular ex-employee has returned.

Time to ditch the degree?

Cue pictures of joyful jumping teenagers – it's exam results season! With 2016 university entry rates for 18 year olds at record levels throughout the UK, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the only path to success involves three years of studying at a prestigious institution. But is that the case?

A recent report suggests that over the course of their lifetime, apprentices can earn up to 270% more than their graduate counterparts. One in four graduates from the class of 2004 is currently earning £20,000 or less. Given these stark statistics, you'd be forgiven for wondering why so many young people insist on leaving the comfort and security of their family home in favour of a grotty student bedsit and mounting student debt.

The report went on to find that just 7% of 18-24 year olds considered apprenticeships right for them with 68% believing that higher education was the best option. Similar findings were found among adults; just 20% considered apprenticeships the best option for young people, compared with 51% who felt that higher education was a preferred route.

The issue does not appear to be one of availability. Recent government statistics show an increase of almost 50% in the number of workplaces employing apprentices in the period from 2010/2011 to 2014/2015. And while apprenticeships used to be the sole remit of the blue collar worker, apprentices are now found in a wide range of professional careers, including the legal and accountancy sectors.

Instead it seems that apprenticeships have an image problem, with the authors of the report laying the blame firmly at the foot of poor quality careers advice.

So what can be done?

Better careers advice, increased employer engagement with schools, an increased minimum wage for apprentices and a focus on changing the perception of parents and family are all suggestions put forward by the report.

If the government is to achieve its target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, it may have its work cut out. 

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