Business

The Boomerang Effect: Will Laid Off Workers Return to Their Former Employers?

For some workers, it doesn’t matter how grim the economy is, how dismal the job market, or how thankless their current job. If they were laid off—especially during the pandemic—many workers would never dream of returning to the place that dropped them.

Tech companies have laid off nearly 245,000 workers this year alone, per tracker Layoffs. And Silicon Valley heavyweights like Meta and Salesforce have led the pack, each culling thousands of jobs apiece.

But workers weren’t losers for long. Now, as the job market shifts once again, companies are scrambling for talent, and some are angling for the very kinds of workers they just cut. The real question is what will happen when those workers decide they don’t want them back?

Over half (58%) of 6,000 professionals who responded to a recent Glassdoor poll said they’d never return to a company who laid them off. In the tech sector specifically, just 46% of workers said they’d boomerang. Men were slightly more likely to consider boomeranging than women, and older workers were more open-minded than younger ones.

“As the labor market has softened over the past year… some regrets are inevitable,” Aaron Terrazas, chief economist at Glassdoor, tells Fortune. A few sectors have begun “cautiously” ramping up their hiring as their fears of a recession recede, but “corporate reputation casts a long shadow.”

The legacy of layoffs—and how they were carried out—could “come back to haunt companies when the pendulum of the labor market inevitably swings back,” Terrazas adds. “Former employees can be a company’s most loyal advocates, or they can be the most piercing critics.” The result depends on the nature of the company.

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Salesforce laid off about 10% of its workforce earlier this year, but now CEO Marc Benioff is encouraging those people to apply to fill its 3,000-plus open roles. “Our job is to grow the company and to continue to achieve great margins,” Benioff said in September. “We know we have to hire thousands of people.” He’s hoping a good portion of those people will be boomerangs. Benioff admitted to attempting to lure workers back in with an “alumni event for people who are employed in other companies to say—it’s okay, come back.”

As for Meta, after laying off about a quarter of its workforce, jobs are open again, and the company has even constructed a specialty “alumni portal” for boomerangs looking to cut the line.

Why boomeranging makes workers cringe

Leaving a job is fraught, especially when it’s the worker’s call. Eighty percent of employees who left their jobs during the so-called Great Resignation came to regret it. That would make boomeranging, for them, a bit less conflicted—and explains why boomeranging is on the rise across the board. But for workers who had no say in the matter, it’s no doubt a rocky call to make, with minimal precedent.

On Blind, an anonymous employee forum, one Stripe worker recently asked whether layoff boomerangs are common. “I know if you get PIPed out or fired you are basically added to a ‘do not hire’ list but what happens with a layoff?” the poster wrote, referring to performance improvement plans. “Has anyone ever returned back after being laid off? I’ve surprisingly never seen it happen in my career.”

A Microsoft employee said they’d seen it with “multiple engineers,” particularly those who were laid off during the Great Recession, only to rejoin a year or so later. Some were re-interviewed, but it was a “mere formality.”

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Granted, boomeranging—if an employee can withstand the early awkwardness—could be a strong move. A worker likely already knows the ropes, can skip the interview process entirely, and won’t need to prove themselves or forge new relationships with managers.

Naturally, it would help the company too. “Re-hiring employees means saving on recruitment costs, onboarding and training, and they bring the benefit of newfound knowledge from their most recent employment experience,” Ryan Wong, CEO of software firm Visier, wrote on LinkedIn last year. But, after a year, workers are significantly less likely to consider boomeranging. And if they do come back, they’re likely expecting an average pay bump of 25%, Wong added. That leaves employers with the question: How much are your boomerangs worth?

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