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Should you take a former employee back?

3 min read


Ready to start hiring again? Ideally, you’ll want someone with experience.  Someone who gets your company culture. Someone who really knows your product or service.

What if that perfect person has already worked for you? Sadly, many companies have an across-the-board formal policy against rehiring former employees. And, even informally, other companies are reluctant to consider former employees because of baggage they imagine such boomerang candidates might be carrying. Such thinking might protect you from making the same hiring mistake twice, but it might also prevent you from acquiring some fantastic talent who had to leave for  reasons unrelated to their performance.

Instead of banning boomerang candidates, make sure you’re smart about how you evaluate them. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Did they leave sad? Was that person laid off and treated respectfully in the process?  Did that person reluctantly leave because of a personal reason (such as a spouse’s relocation or family needs)?  Take him or her back.
  • Did they leave glad? Did that person go on to a new job with a company that offered an exciting chance at career growth (or even more money)?  That doesn’t constitute disloyalty. It’s just a personal need to reach for more. But many dearly departed people will discover they wish they hadn’t left — and would give anything to come back. Welcome them. (I know one guy whose first employer didn’t even bother to fill his vacated position knowing full well that he’d want to return. The employer was right. My friend saw his mistake on the first day, and was back within a week. They just called it a “leave of absence.”)
  • Did they leave mad? Find out why. Maybe the problem is no longer relevant. Maybe the antagonist is no longer there.  Maybe the former employee is over it. How did that person behave and talk about your company during the exile?
  • Did they leave bad? Were the police called? Was the option of a lawsuit considered? Were drugs involved? Perhaps the concern of a corporate security breach?  You’ll probably want to give this person a pass — even if he or she is free on good behavior.
  • Did they leave rad? Some people leave a company because their dreams are just too big for the company’s own plans. A great new business idea to explore. A drive to try new technology.  The entrepreneurial siren call.  If they left because they wanted to pursue new levels of excellence, welcome them home with open arms — even if they failed.

We’re all waiting for the economy to bounce back. Hopefully, a lot of your great talent will bounce back, too. And you’ll have the smarts to welcome the good ones home.

Martha Finney, president and CEO of Engagement Journeys, helps companies build authentically engaging workplace cultures.  She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Truth About Getting the Best From People.

Image credit, kkant1937, via iStock