How to get a former employee back

If you’ve lost a key worker, it’s not too late to reel that coveted person back.
By Cheryl Meyer

Employees leave organizations for a plethora of reasons: Dissatisfaction, stress, too much work, lack of career growth, conflicts with a boss, even the lure of excitement or higher compensation. 

But once they leave, 23% of professionals have regrets about exiting a former job, and six in 10 workers would consider rejoining a previous employer, according to a recent survey of 1,000 office employees developed by staffing firm Accountemps, a Robert Half company. Workers cited several reasons for their regrets: 28% lamented leaving good friends and colleagues, 27% said they quit for the wrong reasons, and 20% said they left behind a great boss or mentor.

"Sometimes folks will leave and see the grass isn't always greener," said Bill Driscoll, president, New England District, for Accountemps.

According to the survey, conducted by independent research firm Maru/Matchbox, 52% would return to their previous employer for better pay. Fifteen percent would come back if there was a flexible schedule and the same portion would return for a promised opportunity for growth.

This is great news for organizational leaders, including those at public accounting firms or in corporate finance departments, which may be able to re-recruit prized former employees if they follow a few key steps. Driscoll offers these tips:

  • Separate on good terms. While you may resent or mourn the loss of your valued CPA or other employee who is determined to jump ship for now, say a temporary goodbye on respectable terms. Once workers leave, some time and distance away from their former company may give them a clearer perspective as to whether they should return. "CPAs are in top demand," Driscoll said. "Make sure you part ways professionally, and leave doors open in the future."
  • Keep in touch. In today's electronic age it's easy to stay connected with someone via email, texting, or phone. Meet for lunch a few times a year. Check in to say hello. If a good employee leaves on more stressful terms, wait awhile before making contact, "when cooler heads prevail," Driscoll advised.
  • Ask questions. Once you reconnect with your former worker over coffee or lunch, dig deeper. "While many employees participate in exit interviews, these conversations often happen with HR and not their manager—and the feedback might not always make it back to the manager," Driscoll said. "You want to assess to the best of your ability and through direct conversation why they left."
  • Talk about the future. If your former employee is open to returning to your firm or company, talk about his or her career path, goals, and compensation wishes. "They are not the same employee as they were when they left," Driscoll said.

Besides these tips, he noted that you should continually "re-recruit" your current employees so you do not lose your best people. "Employees are your most valuable asset," Driscoll said. "If you lose a top performer, very likely it will have a direct impact on their division or your organization. The best thing is introspection, and determining how you can avoid losing a great person in the future."

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, email Chris Baysden, senior manager for newsletters.

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