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Boomerang Employees

child holding up a toy boomerang
photo by Richie Graham

A traditional career path moves forward, and generally upward, in a more or less straight line before perhaps plateauing. But for a growing number of workers, moving forward can sometimes mean turning back.

A survey by Kronos and Workplace Trends recently found that employers and employees alike are becoming more receptive to the idea of “boomerang” workers: employees who resign and later return to their former workplace. According to Bloomberg, 76 percent of employers said they are more willing to rehire former employees than they were five years ago, and 40 percent of employees surveyed said they would consider boomeranging.

The trend has even touched our relatively small firm. Melinda Kibler began her career in 2008 as an intern in Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale office. When she graduated in 2009, she moved to Florida to come to work with us full time.

However, in the fall of 2010 Melinda left to go to work for another financial firm where she had family connections. But two years later, Melinda got back in touch with us to say that she had come to appreciate the broader approach and the level of detail that we apply in working with our clients, compared to other firms that focus more intently on gathering investment assets to manage. During her time away, she had come to realize that our firm more closely matched the way she wanted to practice financial planning. Her actions while away from us demonstrated her sincerity, as she had taken the initiative to earn her CERTIFIED FINANICAL PLANNER™ certification.

I had always viewed Melinda as a professional who had great potential, and I was sorry when she left. So I was happy to overlook what I saw as, essentially, a career misstep borne of youth and inexperience.

Melinda rejoined us in Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of 2013, and quickly reintegrated herself on our staff. Because of her time away, it took nearly two years for her to get the experience she needed to advance to become a manager, particularly in the income and estate tax areas, which are big parts of our practice but not those of many other financial advice firms.

By the fall of 2014, however, Melinda was ready for her promotion to client service manager. Since then, she has been a mentor and role model for the younger people on our staff coming up behind her.

Our experience is typical of many successful boomerang stories. When a former staff member returns, both the employer and the employee have a better than usual sense of what they are getting. This can allow a worker to appreciate the opportunities available at a former workplace, and it can give an employer a second chance to develop a talented employee who already understands the basics behind the company’s philosophy and day-to-day operations.

For a firm like ours, the most reasonable scenario to accept a boomerang employee is one like Melinda’s, where someone leaves us early in her professional life for reasons we can understand and that don’t make us question her motivations when she later wants to return. Such reasons are more numerous for younger employees, closer to the beginning of their career paths.

We have never rehired anyone who left us at the manager level or above. I would not foreclose the possibility it would ever happen, but it would have to be a situation where the employee left for family reasons or other circumstances beyond their control. If someone who had already spent quite a few years at our firm decided we were not the right professional home, I would tend to assume that the employee was right.

That said, it is also important for employers not to take a resignation personally. Very young people cannot always know what they want. And an employee of any experience level can face changed circumstances, which may be personal, professional or a mix of both. Even if you have no intention of ever rehiring a particular employee, every business should maximize the number of friends it has in the world. For example, my former employer Arthur Andersen used to diligently court vast numbers of its alumni through events including annual reunion dinners with current partners. Professional contact need not end the moment an employee walks out the door on his or her last day of work.

Similarly, if you are an employee, it pays to resign amicably even if you have no plans to return. Not only will this help preserve potential professional references, but it leaves the door open for professional connections in the future, whether as a consultant, a networking partner or a full-blown boomerang employee. It is smart never to burn a professional bridge needlessly.

If you do decide to approach a former employer, you should be prepared to address the concern that will likely linger over whether you will want to leave again. Discuss what has changed, in either your circumstances or your outlook, which makes you want to come back. You should also discuss what new skills or knowledge you can offer.

While boomeranging can lead to happy endings, as it did for us, you should not plan your career as a series of loops. It is true that young workers today change jobs more often than their parents did, but chronic job-hopping can still cause problems for job applicants. Employers are wary of workers who show a pattern of quickly moving from one company to another, so be prepared to stay put for a while once you return, especially if it has not been long since your original resignation.

When handled professionally and with care, recovering a boomerang employee can be a great catch for an employer.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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