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Careers Boomerangers are making a comeback in the workplace

Boomeranging can provide key benefits to both employers and employees.

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After a couple of years working in customer support at Calgary-based software provider Replicon Inc., Scott Bales was given an opportunity to put his background in programming to good use for a new role in product development.

"I moved into that role and realized pretty quickly that it was not something I wanted to do," he said. "I gave it a good college try, I did that for a little less than a year, until another opportunity came across my plate."

Upon submitting his letter of resignation, Mr. Bales soon settled into a new position as a partner at an IT consulting firm. But almost two years later, he received an unexpected phone call – from Raj Narayanaswamy, the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Replicon, his former employer.

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"Raj took the opportunity to see if I would go back to Replicon and take on more of a management role, and that was a huge step up for me, from a résumé perspective," he said. "Although they had done everything in their power to retain me [initially], they also recognized the opportunity that I had, and they didn't penalize me for that, so a year-and-a-half later, they were still considering me for roles within the organization."

Once rare, so-called boomerang employees – those who return to a former employer after an amicable parting – appear to be on the rise in the United States and Canada, too.

Replicon's Calgary headquarters counts nine "boomerangers" among its 80 employees in Canada, not including Mr. Bales, who now occupies the position of senior director of customer success at the company's office in Redwood City, Calif.

"Historically speaking, there was a view by organizations that leaving meant a lack of loyalty, and there is now a paradigm shift going on in the employee-employer relationship," said David Almeda, the chief people officer at Kronos, a work force management solutions provider.

"In the past, the employer has felt, to some degree, that they own their employees, and there was some unwritten rule that says you always work here, and when you stop working here, you've broken that bond and you're not welcome back."

Mr. Almeda – along with Dan Schawbel, the founder of human resources research and advisory services firm WorkplaceTrends – recently released a study that tracks the changing attitude toward boomerang employees.

In their survey of 1,800 American HR professionals, managers and employees, nearly half of HR professionals said their organization previously had a policy against hiring former employees, but 76 per cent agreed that they were more accepting of hiring boomerang employees today. Among employees, 15 per cent of respondents had boomeranged, and nearly 40 per cent said they would consider an opportunity with a former employer.

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"The average tenure now across all demographics in America is 4.6 years. Millennials, who are just starting off their careers now, leave every two years," Mr. Schawbel said. "People are more likely to feel like they made a mistake or recognize that their former position wasn't the best fit – they weren't working with the right team or on the right projects – and then they see an opening at their former company that's more aligned with their true interest, because it takes people, especially young people, a while to figure out their strengths."

Mr. Almeda and Mr. Schawbel break down the boomerang employee population into four subcategories: employees who leave a lower-ranking position to develop their skills elsewhere, only to return in an advanced role; retirees who feel an urge to return to the work force; those who return after handling a personal responsibility, such as having a child or taking care of a sick relative; and seasonal workers.

While boomeranging has made the career landscape more competitive for new entrants, who must now face off against former employees in the job market, there are key benefits to both employers and employees who are able to restore old working relationships.

"There's lots of detail around what it costs to hire an employee, but less is detailed on how quickly it can take for a new hire to make an impact and deliver on their mandate. A boomerang employee can really accelerate that," said Jared Simon, a leader in Deloitte's human capital practice in Canada. "Given the importance on culture and leadership, somebody who already has a level of comfort with those two things, given their previous employment, also helps to accelerate the whole process."

Mr. Simon adds that a number of trends are opening the door to boomerang employees in Canada, such as the shortened tenure of millennial employees, a widespread talent shortage, online alumni groups, a focus on corporate culture and the ability to keep in touch with former colleagues through social media.

"During the time these individuals are away from the company, they must have learned something new, they must have been exposed to something different, so when they come back they bring a new perspective, new knowledge, new experience to the company," said Vien Nguyen-Vu, the vice-president of human resources at Replicon. "We know they're a cultural fit, we know their personality and we also know their capability and how they could potentially fit into the role, so they have the first priority."

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