More American workers quit their jobs in September 2021 than ever before, leading some academics to speculate that “boomerang employees” (a cute name for “rehires”) will soon be much more common. Boomeranging is nothing new, especially in high-turnover industries—and under the right circumstances, it’s beneficial for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find useful information about the realities of boomerang hires. Many articles are geared towards employers, and those that aren’t manage to frame a neutral-to-positive decision as shameful. The dominant narrative right now: People who quit during “the Great Resignation” may regret the decision and want—no, beg for—their job back.
“Expect boomerangs amid labor shortage,” warns Business Insider in a subscription-locked blog post. CNBC frames it somewhat differently: “Why all your coworkers who quit are about to come back as ‘boomerang employees.’”
These headlines kind of distort the bigger picture. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 10.5 total million job openings, 6.5 million total hires, and 6.2 million total separations in September 2021. We don’t know how many hires were rehires (or who initiated them) because the BLS doesn’t publish those numbers. But we do know how many people quit: 4.4 million, which is 71% of total separations and a historically high 3% of total employment.
Low-wage, high-stress industries like food service, retail, and hospitality have the highest quit rates—and the most job openings. Basically, millions of people are quitting their shitty jobs, and because employers refuse to make them less shitty, there are no takers.
Boomeranging is one way to make a potentially shitty job into a decent (or at least less shitty) one. Returning candidates are “known quantities,” which gives them a better position from which to argue for better pay, benefits, schedules, and responsibilities; and given the current job market, employers are more likely to agree. Here’s why—and how to use it to your advantage.
Boomerangs are cheaper and easier than new hires
Hiring someone who’s already familiar with both the company and the specific role is hugely advantageous for employers. Current hiring practices are complicated, unnecessarily drawn-out, and super expensive; on top of that, they often fail to identify good candidates. When they do, new hires are often expected to meet unrealistically high performance expectations with little on-the-job training. This is a recipe for attrition—which, of course, starts the whole expensive cycle over again.
From an employer’s perspective, boomerang candidates are cheaper and more reliable than new hires, which is basically ideal. Companies can fast forward through the interviewing, vetting, and training process without exposing themselves to any of the associated risks. If you’re considering going back to an old company, hiring you instead of a newbie will save them money—so keep that in mind when it’s time to negotiate.
Consider your circumstances (and negotiate accordingly)
Most people won’t willingly return to job they hated; if you’re already considering a boomerang move, it’s fair to assume that you’re on mutually civil-to-great terms with your old company. You’re also probably familiar with the usual new-job wildcards like the culture, what your new role will entail on a day-to-day basis, and maybe even what your future manager is like. This gives you more time to focus on why you want the job and what makes you a good fit, which can give you some serious leverage in negotiations.
Before you decide on a salary range, think about where you stand: Why did you leave? How did it go, both for you and the company? What have you done since? How long have they been trying to fill this role? And, most importantly, who initiated the second hiring conversation? Your position depends on all of these answers. The better you left things the first time around, the stronger the argument for bringing you back on board. If you’ve developed new skills and expanded your responsibilities in the interim, even better; if the job’s been open for ages and they reached out to you, consider that permission to go for absolute broke.
The bottom line: Depending on your situation, going back to a former employer can be an opportunity to improve your working conditions. Whatever you want from a new job at your old workplace—more money; a nicer office; full-time remote work; no more brunch shifts, ever again, for any reason—don’t be afraid to ask for it. You may be pleasantly surprised at what they say.