Come back, all is forgiven

Once, if you left a company, for whatever reason, it was a case of 'do not ever darken our doors again'. You were a traitor, no longer part of the corporate family.

Once, if you left a company, for whatever reason, it was a case of "do not ever darken our doors again". You were a traitor, no longer part of the corporate family.

But just as jobs for life have gone forcing workers to become "free agents", the changing realities of the marketplace - labour shortages in IT, people switching jobs more often - are forcing companies to think about ex-employees. To survive, many need their old workers - a case of "come back, all is forgiven".

A survey by online recruitment service Monster.com found that 71% of employers will consider welcoming ex-employees back into their firms, but are cautious about who they will rehire. Another 21% say they are always willing to rehire former staff as it saves in recruitment time and costs.

Some firms say they never rehire ex-employees as they believe it rewards disloyalty. As Monster has grown, it too has had to rehire former workers, with CEO Jeff Taylor saying Monster considers it a compliment that people wish to return; it makes the company feel it is doing the right thing.

In New Zealand, such attitudes towards former staff are also changing, with the rise of what is commonly called "boomerang" recruitment.

Drew Gilpin worked at ISP Clear Net as its first employee and business development manager from mid-1996 to mid-1998. He moved to Advantage Group to diversify and saw software development becoming increasingly important in the industry. However, he attended a press briefing for the launch of Clear's ZFree ISP and felt "there was something that needed finishing. I still felt like I belonged". He is now back, in a more senior position.

Clear's HR director Peter Merry says it was ideal for the company to have someone back who could "hit the ground running". He says Gilpin could walk in and start work straight away. We no longer have jobs for life, he says. People switch more readily and there is value in businesses having "fresh blood". Now there is a time to come and a time to go, he says.

"People still leave for the wrong reasons like under-performance, but where people are moving for professional growth, there is an advantage to having them back. They know the business. In the old days, the policy was once you are out of the door, never darken our door again."

Clear doesn't target former staff, but it keeps in touch with certain ones, just in case they wish to return.

Unisys says it makes no concerted effort to lure back former employees either, but will give those who go overseas - as half do - a chance to return. HR director Ken Goodwin says the secret is not to lose staff in the first place, but if people want to work overseas Unisys will try to find them work with a subsidiary company.

"We know what we're getting back. It's a pretty safe recruitment choice. There is still an element of doubt with those we find on the market," Merry says.

Auckland's Advantage Group also keeps in touch with former workers and says "for key staff, the door is always open". Advantage offers employment exchange initiatives with "strategic partners" in the US, UK and Malaysia. It has also just rehired three people who went on their OE.

"Letting [former workers] know what the company is doing is paramount," says HR director Philippa Furlong. "They give us a good profile overseas and they come back with added value," she says.

However, U-Bix is less enthusiastic about former employees. General manager Sheree Tootell says the company generally does not employ back old staff "as the industry and the technology has moved significantly over the last two to three years and therefore their skills are less relevant today than they were". However, if good staff leave for genuine reasons, for example to travel or for family, we would look to get them back, she says.

Amanda Van Ryn of recruitment consultants Sapphire Technologies says many Kiwi firms are actively seeking old staff. Sapphire itself has just taken back a former worker.

"There are many benefits to the employer as the candidate is a known entity - good and bad - and can easily assimilate back into the working environment."

If they have been approached by the employer, employees have negotiating power as they now know just how much they are valued, she says. However, both parties must be open with each other regarding their reasons for wanting to team up again and what their expectations are of each other.

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