Chad Van Iddekinge (UI photo)

A University of Iowa researcher is studying what he calls “boomerang employees,” those people who quit their jobs and later return to their former employers.

The phenomenon is surging now as those who left careers during the so-called Great Resignation early in the pandemic are now rethinking their decisions. Chad Van Iddekinge, a U-I professor of management and entrepreneurship, says rehiring former workers is something of a safe bet.

“Boomerangs are a known quantity and because of that, they’re thought to be a less risky hire than someone who’s completely new,” Van Iddekinge says. “Boomerangs also tend to require less onboarding and training than first-time hires who are completely new to a job.” Still, U-I studies have found boomerang employees are more likely to quit a second time, often for the same reasons they left initially.

“One study we did, we were looking at retail managers who returned to a former employer,” Van Iddekinge says. “We found that although rehires initially performed better than first-time hires, the first-time hires eventually began to outperform rehires after they got into the organization and trained and got accustomed to their jobs.” Indications are that the Great Resignation is still underway and hasn’t let up since the onset of COVID-19. People who were unfulfilled in their positions quit under the “you only live once” creed to forge a new path, but he says many have found early retirement isn’t for them, or they may simply need the money.

“A big one that we hear about is thinking that the grass is greener on the other side, and that moving to a different organization will be better,” Van Iddekinge says. “I think what people often find is that the grass isn’t greener and they actually had it pretty good where they were before, and that leads them to pursue returning to a former employer.”

It reinforces the importance of keeping good performance review records so employers can best assess the potential of a rehire.
“We’re finding that if people were solid performers before they left, they’re likely to be solid performers again,” Van Iddekinge says. “If they were below-average before, it’s unlikely that they’ve suddenly turned a new leaf and will be a lot better this time around.”

While conventional wisdom indicates people gain experience when they leave for a new job and come back better than before, he says for most it will evoke the adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Radio Iowa