How to win back employees who quit during the pandemic

Fashion companies struggling to fill positions amid the current labor shortage are turning to a new pool of candidates: dozens of people leaving their pandemic-era jobs who want to recover their old jobs.

Whether they miss their former co-workers and clients, face financial hardship, or now realize the grass really wasn’t any greener, some of the millions of workers who left their jobs as of 2020 as part of the so-called great resignation are knocking at their door. doors of former employers.

Nearly 1 in 5 people who quit their job during the pandemic have already ‘boomerang’ back to the job they left and, of those who have not yet returned to their old job, 41% would consider it if that was an option, an April 2022 survey of HR provider UKG found.

It’s always been common for executives and designers to leave their jobs only to return after a few years, usually with new skills, higher pay, and a better title. Luxury fashion veteran Jacopo Venturini returned to Valentino for the third time in June 2020, this time as the brand’s Managing Director. He enriched his curriculum vitae with roles at Prada and Gucci between two stints at the Italian luxury brand.

“When I left Valentino for the second time, I thought it was the right time for me to expand and perfect my skills and competencies, acquired over the years, in different contexts and environments”, said Venturini told BoF in an email. “I was ready to grow and there was no space to do it internally.”

But the latest influx of repeat hires covers every rung of the career ladder and is driven as much by retailers desperate to fill vacancies as by the career plans of individual employees.

Boomerang employees also enjoy unique benefits.

Rehiring a former employee can save a company thousands of dollars – they usually don’t need as much training as a new employee and are already familiar with the way of working and company goals, according to experts. The return of a former colleague can serve as a powerful signal to an existing workforce that a company is a desirable place to work.

Former employees will not automatically return. Labor has the upper hand in many areas of work right now: US employers posted a record 11.5 million job openings in March, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies should maintain contact with former employees and actively attract them. Not to mention, they need a company culture that rewards loyalty and doesn’t punish those who seek work elsewhere.

“This boomerang thing is a really good example of where we’re at…companies are progressive in their thinking about hiring right now because they really don’t have a choice,” said Chris Mullen , Executive Director of UKG’s Workforce Institute. “They have to act fast.”

Building an “alumni network”

Companies that keep meticulous records of departing workers, including contact information, performance reviews, and feedback from exit interviews, have a head start in attracting boomerang employees.

At Workjam, a software application for retail workers, chief executive Stephen Kramer said the company is working with its customers – which include retailers Ulta and TJMaxx – to help them build “alumni networks so that former employees feel more like proud graduates of their former workplaces rather than disgruntled exes who never want to come back.

“The reality is that it’s very difficult, in the short term, if you haven’t had that relationship with former employees to try to reach out now,” he said.

Most employees returning to their old jobs had a “strong and supportive manager”, according to the UKG study. Rokt, an e-commerce technology company that handles online transactions for companies like Wayfair and Lands’ End, has rehired six former employees in the past year and a half, including a senior software engineer and a senior vice president. of the product. Human resources director Sarah Wilson said she relied primarily on employee relationships built and nurtured by managers to pile on the company’s roster.

“Forget the HR and the recruitment function, the people manager or the senior leader staying in contact with [their] people after they’re gone, and really caring about them as humans is, I think, the easiest strategy to employ to bring people back to the boomerang,” she said.

When Venturini returned to Valentino in June 2020, for example, the company said the move was spurred by “a strong passion for the brand and a long-standing relationship” with creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.

“Knowing the roots of where you worked and coming back after years means that the connection originally created is a strong and special bond that allows you to perform at your best with a broader vision and revised outlook,” Venturini said.

Who to bring back

Companies should use human resources software that allows managers to flag “regrettable and non-regrettable” employee departures, Wilson said. Employees who have been terminated for infractions or poor performance are obvious red flags for rehiring, but not all top performers should be rehired, experts say.

Exit interviews should not be treated as a trivial formality. Instead, employers should pay close attention to employee feedback – at all levels – to determine if there is an opportunity to re-engage in the future. For example, if a good employee was leaving due to scheduling issues or insufficient pay, companies should only reach out if they’ve met those challenges, Mullen said.

For retailers, many of the factors that have caused store workers and some company employees to quit over the past two years – such as Covid safety concerns, low wages and a lack of flexibility in the employment – ​​have in some cases been resolved, said Rob Klitsch, director of UKG’s retail, hospitality and catering practice group.

Before rehiring a former employee, Kramer said Workjam considers factors such as how long an employee has been with the company, even if they left in good standing.

“I heard…we should only target people who have worked with us for more than six months,” he said. “Anything less than that, they probably aren’t interested or maybe they don’t know enough about our organization.

Wilson said reaching out to former employees was worth the extra effort, though.

“I would welcome the boomerang employee with open arms – the idea of ​​someone going outside and then deciding to come back is very powerful,” she said. “They know the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then make the choice to come back – that’s a very powerful story and a very strong reinforcement of your culture for your existing employees.”

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