Former Employees – How to Rehire and Re-Engage

Professional careers are strange roads filled with unmapped territory and trend-breaking turns. Not unlike the rumblings of sports stars and movie legends returning for one last hurrah (Harrison Ford, for many examples within blockbuster franchises like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Bladerunner), workers can find themselves at crossroads that seemingly move backward toward the way in which they just walked. But, unlike an escalator consistently moving the employees downward despite effort-filled steps, the act is more of a carousel, pushing former employees back to the employers they once held.

Simply put: employee returns do happen. Whether you laid them off and they reapplied years later, or they quit and decided it was a mistake, it’s a possibility never truly out of existence. But, as an employer, how should you handle it? Should you bring them back on and act as usual? Should you hire them at all?

As an employer, you will eventually run into this conundrum. Former employees may reemerge with updated resumes or promises of better outcomes, but should you bring them back on board? And once you do, how should you handle the onboarding process?

As a staffing agency, we’ve seen former employees return to gigs countless times. Therefore, we will try to make the process both simple and thought-provoking. Let’s get into it.

The Great Resignation and the Great Return

Bound by the shadows of the past, the great warriors that seemingly won the war return with heavy eyes and battered muscles. Tired, they appear. Ready to reestablish the once empire-like connection, they look to their former combatants with outstretched hands.

Excerpt from Great Resignation – Will Workplace Change Continue?

There was a mass societal shift bubbling beneath millions of Zoom calls and at-home workplaces. As a pandemic charged across the world, so did a train of thought, pushing through years of static and comfortable stigmas. The Great Resignation: a chance for people to reevaluate their values of both life and work.

Sandwiched between pandemic-forced isolation and at-home working policies, people had more time for introspection. After a year-long bout of battling against boredom and seclusion, a mass thought process swept the nation like a refreshing broom. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47.8 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021. About 50.5 million quit in 2022.

Ultimately, people decided that they were no longer happy with getting by. Workers realized with rightful thought that they are worth more than paid. Why work a job you don’t enjoy when life is so short and crucial? Why waste precious life doing something you don’t like just to get by?

Consider it a renaissance, if you will. A great awakening in the minds of the common employee. Workers have taken over the power, holding higher and reasonable expectations for future employers. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, it’s impossible to overlook the numbers. A sizable shift in the job market did happen. The Great Resignation truly lived up to its title.

It’s Only Reasonable…

With that many employees leaving at a record-breaking pace, it’s only reasonable to imagine a plethora will return. Ultimately, plenty of the 100-some-odd million employees left due to changes in passion or ideals. Once they decided that their ‘quarantined-caused workplace fantasies’ may not be realistic, they are likely to return to their former careers.

As a side note, it’s pretty depressing. A fair amount of those battling in the Great Resignation looked for a more inspiring or fulfilling work future. When they realized it was impossible (due to misjudged jumps or the overbearing weight of modern capitalism), they find themselves not necessarily crawling back, but walking back to their former careers with weapons down. The former careers they left due to unhappiness.

Regardless, why and how is not the point here. The point is that former employees are returning to their past workplaces. These ‘Boomerang Employees’ are becoming common.

A 2022 study by UKG found that 43% of people who quit their jobs during the pandemic now admit they were actually better off at their old job.

Furthermore, 1 in 5 people who quit during the pandemic have already gone back to the job they left.

Now, you ask, “what’s your point?” And to that, I say, “it’s possible”.

Point is: if you had a plethora of workers leave during or after the pandemic, it’s possible you see them reapply or reach out for their former position within the next year. With that being likely, understanding how to approach the situation becomes ever-important.

Should You Take Former Employees Back

Before we discuss re-engaging and rehiring former employees, we must discuss what is in it for you. At the end of the day, you have the option of whether you bring a worker back on board, regardless of how long they have been off your payroll. Even if they only quit for a day, if they were taken off the books, they need to be re-hired.

Should you take your former employees back? It truly depends.

Firstly, it’s important to note the positives of re-hiring an employer (there are plenty).

  • Onboarding time is significantly lessened: though we will speak more on this later, it’s important to remember the lack of training needed for older employees. If they were recently laid off or quit, the need for a full onboarding process is little-to-none. If they worked for you years ago, they will still have a strong basis of company and production knowledge. All in all, this will save your company time and resources as opposed to vetting and hiring someone completely new.
  • They boost morale: think of the impact former employees have on their peers. An employee returning tells everyone else that the grass isn’t always greener. It also lets them know that people enjoy the workplace enough to return, which is a great form of bolstering their already-happy work emotions. If the situation is correct, a returning employee makes your company look good to the current workers.
  • Culture is established: unless it’s been a significant break between employment, the former worker already knows your company culture. Therefore, the chance of them creating a toxic workplace or misbalancing the existing culture is extremely low.
  • They bring new ideas: A former worker understands your business, culture, and practices. Once they take a breath away, they may come up with new ideas to help boost your existing production or team. They can provide an outside perspective that is already tailored to and knowledgeable about your workplace.

But, of course, there are negatives…

When deciding on your rehiring decision, you must look at the potential negatives surrounding the former employee.

  • If there were issues, there may still be issues: if the former employee was a great worker but had issues with specific peers, those problems could still exist. Furthermore, they may hold a bit of resentment toward former superiors or management, especially if it was the cause of their initial layoff. It’s a risky move.
  • Can you trust them to stay?: while the time and money saving of rehiring are nice, it could still end up being costly. If the employee is to leave again, you are stuck wasting your HR resources another time. Then, it’s all for not. So, can you trust them to stick around this time?
  • Bias may outweigh the facts: you may have admiration or respect for the worker. You may not have wanted them to quit initially. Will this bias cause you to hire them back over a new employer that may be a better fit for the job? It’s important to remember that there are still other candidates out there. Just because the worker did work with you doesn’t mean they are the best candidate applying.
  • False promises: the former worker may make promises that they’ve improved on issues they had during their last employment stint with you. These may be lies to win their old job back. If they had negatives before, you must be sure those negatives won’t come back now.

It All Depends

At the end of the day, the choice depends on the situation. It’s impossible to note every possibility and scenario regarding rehiring, but it’s the main factor in the decision. Do you feel like it’s a good idea?

If the employee was laid off and is reapplying, ask why they were laid off. Have those former issues improved?

If the employee had cultural mismatches with management or peers, ask yourself about the situation. Are the former peers still around? Will the employee bring up old problems again?

With all these questions in hand, we recommend doing 3 things when pondering the idea of rehiring.

1. Check Former Files

If you keep records of your former employees, check up on this specific one. Check their file and read over all the information to help remind yourself why the working relationship didn’t work in the first place.

If the employee worked for you a few years ago, you may be looking at them with rose-colored glasses. You may only remember the positives, forgetting all the issues you had with their performance or attitude. Looking back over these files may help you remember the true gravity of the situation.

For example, you may find a write-up for the employee regarding their customer service behavior. Maybe they got in trouble for being irate or rude to a customer. You may have completely forgotten about their lack of communication skills and only remembered their excellent work ethic. The question becomes: have they gotten better? Will this be a problem again?

2. Ask Others

It’s possible you don’t have files on the former worker. It’s also possible that they never got in trouble, leaving no paper trail of issues. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have negatives.

Reach out to current employees you trust that worked with said worker. Management and supervisors are especially helpful here. Ask their opinion of the employee. They may remind you of issues that you forgot about. They may also let you in on issues that you were unaware of, especially those that may have involved workplace problems with other peers.

For example, your manager may tell you that the employee was actually hard to work with and many peers disliked them. You may not be able to be hands-on enough to notice these issues, only looking at production on paper.

As always, take these opinions with a grain of salt. But, if you trust the employee you are asking, you may want to think about their opinion when making your decision.

3. Interview Again

Just because the worker was once employed by you doesn’t mean they should immediately be brought on. They should not be exonerated from the interviewing process.

Sure, it shouldn’t be as lengthy or expensive as a new applicant, but it should still happen. Unfortunately, people can change for the negative over time. The worker might not fit anymore.

Once you have gotten opinions and looked over former issues, interview the employee. Talk to them about why they want to come back, how they have improved, and address the issues you have discovered. The rub here is to attempt to feel out their improvements and dedication to your company.

Ultimately, interviewing them helps negate the 4 negatives we listed earlier (the orange box). Have they changed for the better, improving on their former negatives? Are they dedicated to your company and won’t leave again? Are they truly the better applicant as opposed to new candidates? Have they learned new skills in their absence that will help improve your workplace?

It doesn’t matter if the absence has been a month or 5 years. Never rehire an employee without interviewing them.

What If You Are Trying to Rehire Former Employees?

Before jumping into the re-engagement section, we must note a unique-but-common scenario.

What if you have decided to reach back out to a former employee with the intent of rehiring them? Not the other way around.

Consequently, this could be an entire article on its own. There is an entire method to reaching out to former employees without sounding desperate, therefore lowering your leverage in negotiations.

Overall, remember the determining factors we have noted so far. Is the employee worth bringing back on? Will they be better than new applicants? Have they improved since leaving your company?

Once you have made up your mind, reach out to them with the intention of asking if they would like to reapply. Even though you are reaching out to them, an interview process still needs to happen. It’s entirely possible that the former worker has changed. Don’t bank entirely on your memory. Have a conversation with them, even if not framed as an interview, before you make an offer.

Regarding salary, remember that you likely won’t be able to bring them back on without increasing their former pay. You lose a bit of leverage when you are the pursuer. They don’t need to come back to your business, so why would they accept the former pay? Remember that a raise or increase in power will likely be necessary to convince them. This should be factored into your decision between them and new candidates.

Reach out to them and ask how they are doing. Let them know that the position is back open and you would love for them to rejoin your team. If they sound interested, set up a time to discuss it with them in person or over the phone, acting as a pseudo-interview.

How to Re-Engage Your Former Employees

So, you have decided to bring the worker back on. Regardless of the situation, you both have agreed on reforming working ties. Welcome back!

Therewithin lies a plethora of questions on how to handle the situation. What is needed and how should the employee be brought back in?

Let’s break down some important tips.

Do You Have a Rehire Policy?

Long-running companies have seen rehires come through. Therefore, they are likely to have a policy already in place that specifies how to handle the situation. They may also have a policy on when the employee’s information is tossed, determining how much documentation and onboarding is needed for rehires.

If your company does not have a rehire policy in place, you may want to draft one to negate these issues in the future. Though impossible to pinpoint for each specific company, a normal rehire policy goes as follows:

  • List what type of employees are eligible for rehire. I.e. if their work was satisfactory, they weren’t fired, they were laid off due to business constraints, or their contract ran out.
  • List what type of employees aren’t eligible for rehire. I.e. they were fired, they quit unethically, they had bad behavior or performance, they had legal issues, or they abandoned the job.
  • How long will an employee take to be considered a new hire? For example, if an employee worked for you for at least 1 year and only quit for a month, they may not be considered a new employee, therefore not having to go through retraining.
  • If the employee only worked for a few months before quitting or didn’t work with you for over, say, 2 years, they may be considered a new employee, having to go through all the onboarding and training that a completely new employee would.
  • Lastly, not how long an employee must be absent before needing a screening process. For example, if the employee was gone for over a year, they may need to submit an entirely new application with a resume, be interviewed, and be drug tested.

The length and terms of all the aforementioned notes are entirely up to you but should be set in place to avoid legal issues or misjudged rehirings.

Discuss Why They Left

Whether after rehiring or in the interviewing process, it’s important to come to terms with the former relationship. Why did the employee leave (if they did)? What were they looking for elsewhere? Is there a middle ground?

Any morally just and empathetic employer will want to work with the former worker. If, for example, the worker left due to feeling trapped, unhappy, or unable to move upward on the corporate ladder but now has to return for unseen circumstances, it’s important to discuss this. Why did they leave, why are they coming back, and how can you both compromise and make the relationships better?

Let’s say the former employer left because they wanted to try new things. Maybe you can discuss crosstraining them and up their responsibilities. Maybe there is room for non-lateral improvement, helping them learn new skills and fulfill the need to try new things.

As stated, keep a sense of empathy. If there were problems with the first working relationship, now is the time to hammer out a plan to fix them that benefits you both.

Not only will this increase happiness, but it’ll take the employee’s engagement to heights it had never reached before.

Hold Abbreviated Onboarding

If the employee has been gone for some time, they are likely to need a refresher on new policies and procedures. As we noted, this depends on your company’s rehire policy, but sometimes there are gray areas. Overall, if the employee has been gone for at least 6 months, they might need to onboard again. Even though your policy might say they don’t, you should still have a sit down with them in order to go over everything.

We recommend having them shadow a fellow employee for at least a day. This way, they can continue to work with what the know and have someone connected to them to which they can ask questions regarding new policies and processes. They may not need a full training period, but they should have a peer in immediate contact for any questions that arise.

You never know what they don’t know. You can’t know what you don’t know. Make sense?

Furthermore, if there are any new employees since their last stint with you, make sure to introduce them. You never want to make newer employees feel like they are being bunted out by former ones. Therefore, make sure everyone meets and doesn’t feel threatened.