In romantic relationships, probably no one considers getting back with an ex without some alarm bells and whistles going off. ("Don't do it!" "It's a trap!") But in the business world, having an employee boomerang back to you can be a great thing. Just ask companies like Apple, which arguably was saved by Steve Jobs' return.

The Boomerang Boom

According to Brendan Browne, LinkedIn's VP of Talent Acquisition, the phenomenon of boomeranging has been growing over the last two years, although the exact reasons for the increase in boomerangs are still a little fuzzy.

Some workers might come back because their previous companies can offer better pay or benefits in a tighter economy. And sometimes the previous companies really do present a new opportunity that's golden compared to what the workers currently are doing or could find elsewhere.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the growth is that there's also a shift in how workers and leaders think about job hopping. Whereas before that kind of behavior could have been seen as a lack of focus or commitment, now gig work is normal. And over the past 20 years, the number of companies people work for in the five years after graduation has doubled.

People like to try out different jobs before they settle into their careers, and many companies encourage workers to explore options at any point in their career as part of lifelong learning. And if a worker discovers that a shiny, looks-exciting role at a new company isn't a good fit or won't drive their career, they can turn back to previous employers quickly.

Now, Browne says, businesses are seeing past hires as a strong talent pool to recruit from and re-engage. After all, these people already have a strong foundational knowledge of the companies, and the new experiences, skills and connections they bring back can have enormous value.

And if your company and the workers both have developed, the issues that originally led them to exit might be quite easy to resolve or not even exist anymore. You can increase the odds of ensuring that a boomerang worker is the best choice by acknowledging those concerns head on and asking additional questions like:

  • How well connected is the worker in my company and where can they get support?
  • Is being hired back going to help the worker advance in their career?
  • What specific changes do I see in the worker and how do those match the goals my business currently has?

Fostering and Maintaining Your Relationships Is More Important Than Ever

"By developing resources for former employees to stay well connected, companies can create opportunities for strong talent to come back in the future," Browne asserts. "It is important for company leaders to remain positive and encouraging if an employee chooses to pursue another opportunity."

To build a solid link, the entire off-boarding process needs to be handled properly. Managers and teams, Browne recommends, should be intentional and be clear that the workers always are welcome back. Part of that can be supporting good alumni programs, which help workers keep in touch and on good terms. And leaders shouldn't be shy about reaching out to past workers to see how they're doing.

"[Workers] vividly remember how their company leaders react to them leaving," Browne explains, "which speaks volumes to culture and respect."

In the broader picture, the boomerang phenomenon emphasizes the fact that no company truly is in a bubble. Your business is part of a larger industry, and each industry similarly connects in a host of ways to all others. For this reason, once a boomerang worker comes back, remind yourself and your team that broader perspectives help not just your business, but the entire market to cordially compete more fiercely and do better. Driving others through this growth to new innovation is what real leadership is all about.