A recent study reports that 80% of employees who left their jobs during the great resignation now regret it. Different research reports 43% of people who resigned admitted they were better off at their old jobs and 41% feel they quit their jobs too quickly. Both studies show that about a quarter of employees “boomeranged” – left voluntarily and then returned to their previous employers.
Boomerangs are on the rise, with research and anecdotes reporting former employees returning “home” after realizing what they left behind. A 2023 HBR report shows 28% of new hires in a multiyear study were boomerang hires who had resigned within the previous 36 months.
Effective leaders reduce turnover and increase the chances employees will return someday by engaging in six actions:
Help employees understand risks and “switching costs.” Many employees do not consider the costs of changing jobs and that they will be starting from scratch in a new organization: from developing relationships with managers and co-workers to navigating the structure of their new companies, to restarting benefit programs. Some leave savings and retirement plan balances on the table as well as unused vacation, seniority, shift schedule priority, partial year-end bonuses and long-term incentives.
Additionally, they leave behind valuable social capital (who they know and the established relationships that allow them to function effectively and progress more quickly in their careers), which needs to be painstakingly re-earned.
Effective leaders help employees understand both financial and social switching costs, as well as the risks associated with leaving, including sharing data on the number of employees who regret leaving and why. These actions may help retain employees.
Understand the reason people are leaving. According to WTW research, pay and bonus represent the top reason for moving to a new job, with health and retirement benefits increasingly playing a more significant role (employees are more willing to stay with their employer when they think their benefits meet their needs). One report says that while compensation tops the list of why people have changed jobs, fewer than half of job changers received pay raises at their new positions, and many actually took pay cuts when they moved.
Beyond pay and benefits, there is a significant disconnect between managers and employees about other reasons people resign. When asked, managers correctly named only two reasons (poor work/life balance and lack of career development) of the next top five for quitting; they missed employees not feeling valued or like they belong, frustration with executive leadership and poor company culture.
Effective leaders take the time to understand employee concerns and use the insights to address issues.
Treat people respectfully and fairly upon exit. Effective leaders know there are many reasons to treat employees with dignity when they decide to leave, including increasing the chances they may return. Research confirms that positive, supportive exit actions and conversations facilitate positive post-exit relationships.
Effective leaders protect company security, property and intellectual capital during employee transitions while balancing the cost of abruptly terminating employee access to colleagues, resources, facilities, and personal information and effects. Criticizing employees’ decisions, exhibiting a lack of respect and cutting ties can be costly in the long run.
Effective leaders continue thoughtful employment practices through the transition, leverage their own personal networks to open up opportunities for departing colleagues and respect employees' roles as organizational members that do not end immediately after they have shared the decision to leave.
Extend culture and employee experience post-employment. Effective leaders connect regularly with alums and keep them connected to the positive cultures and employee experiences that they have established. They understand that the biggest loss employees experience from their old jobs is their coworkers, and effective leaders continue to foster relationships after transitions. Many companies establish formal alumni networks with regular social and learning events, both virtually and in person.
According to the HBR study, the majority of boomerang employees return to their original employers within 13 months of their departures, 26% return within seven months and more than three-quarters return by month 16. This suggests that check-in points after six months and one-year, with offers of return where appropriate, can be highly beneficial for both employer and employee.
Celebrate returns and share experiences. When employees do return, effective leaders encourage them to share their experiences regarding why they returned and their views on the attributes of the organization that brought them back. Such conversations underscore positive culture and programs and help employees appreciate the full picture of their current situation.
Effective leaders support exiting employees, keep in close touch with those who leave on good terms and maintain positive relationships – making clear that the door is open if positions are available and welcoming them back when they return.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com on April 17, 2023.