Here we look at the trend of ‘job boomeranging’, the reasons why the trend occurred, and why businesses may choose to re-hire boomerangers.
What Is It?
Job boomeranging refers to when an employee leaves a company and then returns to work for the same company at a later date.
How Has It Come About?
The term ‘job boomeranging’ was coined by Anthony C. Klotz, Associate Professor of Management, Organisations and Innovation Group, at UCL School of Management in London. According to Anthony Klotz, boomeranging (returning to the same job after leaving) is happening because workers left their jobs in what he calls ‘The Great Resignation’ and then suffered ‘The Big Regret’.
What Is The ‘Great Resignation’?
‘The Great Resignation’ is the trend of employees leaving their jobs and companies en masse, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in June 2021, the monthly JOLTS report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released their report that 2.8 per cent of the workforce (4 million people) had left their jobs. This was the highest amount of voluntary turnover ever recorded since tracking began in 2000 and was 15 per cent higher than the same month in 2019 (which had been the highest April on record). Klotz says that ‘The Great Resignation’ trend’ is continuing as ‘monthly quits’ were recorded as exceeding the 4 million mark 11 times in the following 12 months and had reached 4.4 million in four of the six months in the first half of last year.
Fuelled By Reports Of Higher Earnings And Better Lives Elsewhere
The trend in the US has been fuelled by reports that those switching jobs have found work with higher earnings and a better work-life balance. For example, Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. government data showed that from April 2021 to March 2022, 60 per cent of workers switching jobs saw an increase in their real earnings over the same month the previous year. This reportedly happened despite a surge in the rate of inflation that eroded real earnings for many others. The same analysis showed that among workers who stayed with the same employer, less than half (47 per cent) saw a real earnings increase.
‘The Great Resignation’ – A Global Phenomenon
The trend isn’t just confined to the US and appears to be a global phenomenon. For example, here in the UK, although the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the unemployment rate reach 4.9 per cent in the three months to November 2020 (the highest rate since 2016) and the number of people on payrolls in the UK fell by 730,000 between March and November 2020 (the largest fall on record) people were also leaving their jobs as well as simply losing their jobs. In the UK, job-to-job movement reached an all-time high between October and December 2021. For example, the UK’s Labour Force Survey (November 2021) showed that, of the 1.02 million people who moved jobs between July and September 2021, 391,000 of them had resigned. This was the highest spike ever recorded by the LFS.
A 2021 survey (Professor Lynda Gratton) among 150 executives from 23 companies in the U.S., Asia, and Europe in late 2021 showed that, in reply to the question “what’ is the biggest challenges facing business right now?” the no.1 response was ‘retaining people’, closely followed by ‘recruiting people’.
Some of the key reasons believed to be behind the trend include:
- Economic uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in unemployment, with many businesses closing or reducing their workforce. This has made it difficult for many people to find stable employment and has increased the likelihood of job loss.
- Work-life balance. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of work-life balance for many people. With the ability to work from home, people may be looking for jobs that offer more flexibility and a better balance between their personal and professional lives.
- Personal circumstances. The pandemic has forced many people to re-evaluate their personal circumstances and priorities, leading some to make changes in their careers. For example, some may have been ‘quiet quitting’ for some time and the pandemic conditions plus reports of others leaving and finding a better life and wages may have motivated them to move.
- Mental health. The pandemic took a toll on people’s mental health. Remote work may have blurred the lines between work and personal life, leading to burnout and increasing the desire for a change in career.
- Remote work. The shift to remote work has made it easier for people to find new job opportunities, even if they are not in their immediate geographical area. This has increased the ability for people to change jobs more easily.
- Business closures. The pandemic has led to the closure of many businesses, leaving employees without jobs.
- As highlighted by Professor Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, the pandemic led to people being confronted with the reality of their mortality spurring a phase of post-traumatic growth. Also, Professor Cable believes that people living longer, is having an impact on our relationship with work whereby they seek the flexibility to match the different stages of their life.
What’s Changed Now? The ‘Big Regret’
It is thought that following ‘The Great Resignation’, the job boomerang trend is part of what Anthony Klotz calls ‘The Big Regret’. As highlighted by a UKG survey across six countries in 2022 among 1,950 employees who quit their jobs since March 2020, 41 per cent felt they quit their old job too quickly. Also, 43 of job quitters surveyed said they were better off at their old job and 62 per cent agreed that their old job was superior.
Companies appear now to be open to the idea of re-hiring people who are part of the job boomeranging trend. For example, The Microsoft Alumni Network and Microsoft have created a direct “Road to Rehire” for Microsoft Alumni Network members. This is to capitalise on the fact that, in 2019, more than 10 percent of Microsoft’s hires were “boomerangs”.
How Long Does It Take To Boomerang?
LinkedIn’s Workforce Report indicates that the average time it takes workers to boomerang is 17.3 months, but that number varies across industries.
Why Re-Hire Former Employees?
The are several good reasons why companies may wish to bring back former employees/job boomerangers. These include:
- They are a lower risk than new (unknown) employees.
- They are familiar with the job, already understand the business culture and values, and may have relationships with existing employees.
- They have already been trained and may get up to speed more quickly than new employees, i.e. saving costs and time.
- Boomerang employees may have gained new skills and experiences while they were away, which can benefit the company, and could share what they have learned.
- Rehiring a former employee can be a cost-effective way for a company to fill a position quickly.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The global pandemic caused a mass loss of jobs and caused many others to re-think their lives and their relationship with work and their individual jobs. Also, inspiration from stories that others had found a better life and higher wages caused many workers to opt for ‘The Great Resignation’. Fast-forward to today’s post-pandemic world with a poor economic outlook, inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis, and where the promise of a better job with better work and better pay may not have materialised in reality.
This has left many have feeling the need for stability as well as the ‘Big Regret’, leading to the boomeranging trend. For businesses looking to fill positions, this has led to the ability to (in many cases) re-hire and gain known-quantity, low-risk, already-trained employees, who may even bring new skills and a new attitude with them. This has allowed businesses to quickly fill positions in a lower-cost way, thereby increasing capacity and helping them to become more competitive.
By Mike Knight