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Krannert research examines potential pitfalls of rehiring ‘boomerang’ employees

Monday, July 27, 2020


A common piece of career advice is to not “burn bridges” when leaving one employer for another. After all, who know what opportunities may present themselves in the future?

Although numerous studies have examined the performance outcomes for both internal and external hires, few have considered “boomerang employees” who are rehired by a company where they previously worked.

Michael A. Campion, Purdue’s Herman C. Krannert of Professor of Management, addresses that research gap in his paper “Welcome Back? Job Performance and Turnover of Boomerang Employees Compared to Internal and External Hires,” forthcoming in Journal of Management.


The study’s coauthors are John D. Arnold (first author), University of Missouri; Chad H. Van Iddekinge, University of Iowa; Michael C. Campion, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; and Talya N. Bauer, Portland State University.


Promoting internal job candidates, hiring external candidates, or rehiring former employees are key decisions for employers, Campion says.


“Studies have shown that while internal hires may possess unique knowledge, skills, and relationships within the organization that may enable them to perform more effectively in a higher level position, external hires may provide new perspectives or attributes the organization lacks,” he says.


In contrast, less attention has focused on “boomerang” employees who leave organizations and are later rehired by the same organizations, Campion says.


Historically, rehiring former employees has rarely been considered because choosing to leave was viewed as disloyal. “In an era when the average employee will work for more than 12 different employers during their career, however, organizations are becoming more open to rehiring former employees,” he says. This may be particularly salient as organizations rebuild following layoffs associated with COVID-19. 


The anecdotal benefits of rehiring former employees are numerous, Campion says.


“Hiring former employees, who are a known entity, is thought to be less risky than hiring new employees,” he says. “They are also familiar with the job, understand the organization’s culture and values, and may have relationships with existing employees.”


Boomerang employees may also bring fresh perspectives and new knowledge and skills to the organization, as well as signal to existing employees that it is a good place to work.


To put these perceived benefits to the test, Campion and his research colleagues analyzed data on 30,714 employees of a large retail organization who were initially hired or rehired into a management trainee position.


“The results suggest that boomerang managers’ performance tends to remain the same after being rehired,” Campion says. “Additionally, initial turnover reason was not a good predictor of rehire performance when controlling for initial performance. Finally, boomerang employees who left the organization a second time tended to do so for similar reasons to those of their initial departure.”


The study found that while boomerang managers perform similarly to internal and external hires in the first year, both internal and external hires improve more over time than rehires. Boomerang managers also are more likely to turn over than other types of hires, Campion says.


“Interestingly, despite demonstrating less performance improvement and a higher propensity to turn over, boomerangs are more likely to be promoted than internal hires, and they are as likely to be promoted as external hires,” he says. “This suggests that organizations may use promotions to try to retain boomerangs, even though such employees may not be as effective as others over the long term. Taken as a whole, these findings call into question some of the proposed benefits of rehiring former employees.”


An abstract and PDF of the study is available at