Boomerang employees

By Tony Kontzer, Network World |  Career

InFocus Systems hasn't become one of the best-regarded employers in Oregon by
showing departing employees the door upon their decisions to leave. If anything, the
Portland manufacturer of LCD computer projectors coddles such employees.

So when a valued IT staffer seemed bittersweet about his departure during a recent
exit interview, Rebecca Lynch-Wilmot, InFocus' director of employee learning and
development, didn't let the opportunity to plant a warm and fuzzy notion pass.

"I made it clear to him that if he got to his new employer and felt any misgivings,
we would reinstate him and give him his seniority back," recalls Lynch-Wilmot.

Just two weeks later, the employee was back on the job at InFocus.

On the surface, the innocent suggestion that the person would be welcomed back ended
up saving InFocus the cost of recruiting and training a replacement who might never
match the departing employee's abilities.

But Lynch-Wilmot says the worker's decision to return was more significant in terms
of its impact on the company culture. "It tells your employees that you really mean it
when you say your employees are your greatest asset," she says.

It should come as no surprise that such a seemingly insignificant gesture as letting
departing staffers know they're still wanted can have a powerful impact, says Jane
Weizmann, a senior consultant for Watson Wyatt Worldwide, an human resources consulting
firm in Bethesda, Md.

In many instances, employees are looking more for signs that they're considered
important than for increased compensation. As such, Weizmann recommends that companies
looking to lure highly regarded former employees back into the fold consider simple and
persistent contact with those people. "What you don't want to create is a situation
where people think, 'So if I leave and come back, I get more?'," she says.

Subtle acts, such as keeping in touch through e-mail, making phone contact after six
months and conducting informal surveys, can mean the difference between a person who
drifts away permanently and one who returns as a boomerang employee.

The fact that many employers today are making such efforts to remain in contact with
former employees represents a fundamental shift.

"There used to be a management philosophy that said if you're not loyal, don't let
the door hit you on the way out," Weizmann says. Now many of those same compannies see
former employees as a great recruitment pool.

One company that is a haven for former staffers is Gensler, a global architecture
firm in San Francisco. The company has enough boomerang employees -- in the
neighborhood
of 12% of its staff -- that HR can run reports that break down the percentage of
boomerangers by department.

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