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Commentary: ‘Boomerang employees’ could be the untapped talent pool bosses have been looking for

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The Great Resignation of 2022 may soon turn into the Great Return of 2023, as employees who confidently quit their jobs in search of a brighter future have instead found out that their destinies may just be back with their original employers.

Not too long ago, employers didn’t like to hire back people who had voluntarily left their employment. These so-called “boomerang employees” are finding a more receptive audience today, as employers look to fill ongoing gaps in their employee rolls.

In fact, organizations may find that boomerang employees may be the best solution to the stubborn problem of worker shortages, while also serving as a way for companies to keep HR budgets in check and reduce disruptions in operations.

The advantages of rehiring are so great they can likely reverse whatever long-standing rules exist about not hiring returnees. Boomerangs know their jobs, so they’ll be ready on day one. Organizations save on the cost of searching, recruiting, selecting, training, and onboarding new employees. And, hopefully, they have a record of productivity and performance.

Admittedly, there’s that pesky history of leaving a company. As the pandemic receded, and people were called back to their offices, unhappy employees went looking for more favorable work arrangements, a better work-life balance, or new types of employment.

But the reality of the post-pandemic employment landscape intruded. For many, jobs didn’t surface, or when they did, the fit wasn’t right. Like a boomerang that flies on a curved path rather than a straight line, boomerang workers are finding their way back to the jobs that defined or distinguished their careers before the pandemic.

Research by the payroll firm UKG in 2022 found that 43% of people who quit their jobs during the pandemic believe they were better off in their old position. Other research shows nearly one in five people who quit their jobs during the pandemic have returned to their previous employers.

Given the boomerang phenomenon is likely to continue as the workforce landscape is resettled in the wake of the pandemic, organizations and employees could do a few things to make the transition back simpler.

When someone is leaving a company, both sides should make the process as respectful as possible, forgoing animosity that might be hard to overcome later. Organizations could even signal to valuable workers that there is always room for them in the company.

As this trend continues amid the current worker shortage, employers could also use some help from the federal government. Officials could cut red tape to make it easier for organizations trying to reemploy boomerangs. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could exempt employers rehiring former employees from federal diversity in hiring rules.

The boomerang trend will likely increase in the coming years as market forces drive employment changeovers. As long as employers search for workers and employees look for jobs, boomerangs are legitimate and opportune candidates, especially if they left previously on good terms. Sure, boomerangs have proven they don’t mind leaving the company, but they’ve also demonstrated they’re smart enough to come back into the fold.

James R. Bailey is a professor and Hochberg Fellow of Leadership Development at George Washington University.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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