Should You Rehire Someone?

Last Updated Sep 14, 2011 5:58 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,

What are the pros and cons of rehiring an employee?  Is it worth it, or should I avoid it?

The first question you have to ask is, "Has the issue that caused you to leave been resolved?  How so?"

I realize this sounds like the company needs to do some changing in order to bring someone back on board, and this is horrifying for many managers.  Of course no one quit a job working for you because of problems.  It was just because a fabulous new opportunity opened up!

This, of course, is patently false.  There are always issues and the number one reason a person quits is because of the manager.  Not the vacation policy or the parking situation, but the manager.  And if it's not a particular manager, it could be a management style question, in which case bringing the person back could result in the person wanting to leave again in the near future.

But, don't let that dissuade you.  As a general rule, I'm a big fan of rehires, but I like to give both sides of the story.  Here is a list of pros and cons.

Pros

  • You know what you're getting. Whenever you  hire from the outside you have to base your decision on what the individual says about himself and a reference check.  When you rehire you know what the person did before and you can make a judgment that way.  Even if the person is being hired into a different department, the former manager is available, as are detailed performance appraisals.  You just flat out know more about a rehire.
  • Shorter learning curve. Some jobs require intimate knowledge of company culture and procedures.  Rehires start out knowing so much more of that information than new hires.  This is a huge plus in terms of productivity.
  • The candidate knows what he's getting into. Taking any new job is a risk.  But, if you've worked somewhere before, you know more of what to expect.  Yes, things change, people change, hairstyles change, but especially in a large company, the overall culture is slow to change.  They know the flaws in the company and have expressed willingness to come back.
  • The candidate doesn't think the grass is greener elsewhere. If you love someone set him free, blah, blah, sappy greeting card sentiments aside, there is some truth.  Recruiters and hiring managers have been known to totally talk up a company, luring people into what turn out to be really unpleasant jobs. Your returning employee has been with your competitor and he still wants to come back.
  • The candidate has learned on someone else's dime. Frequently people leave because of lack of promotional opportunities.  They've gone elsewhere and learned and developed and now they are qualified for a job they weren't qualified for earlier.  Your company may not have had the capabilities to develop someone to this point, so be thankful someone else did.  This is especially relevant in smaller companies where there aren't lots of levels and departments in which to gain experience.

Cons

  • Things probably haven't changed all that much. Everyone leaves for a reason. If you really haven't resolved the reason why this person left, it will come creeping up again.  Has your management team improved?  Have your policies changed?  How's that micro-management culture going?  It's very critical to understand why the person left in the first place and determine if the issue has been resolved.
  • Hard feelings. Some managers take it personally when someone resigns.  This candidate may not be looking to work for the same manager, but if his former manager or colleagues are still working there, can you be sure they are in agreement here?  You don't want to bring in old conflicts.  Plus, if the person left because you laid him off, he may still be a bit bitter.
  • Annoying legal reasons. Eligibility for FMLA, pensions and other things are not always straightforward with a rehire.  This isn't a reason not to rehire, just an acknowledgement that you must be paying attention.

Overall, I'm strongly in favor of rehires.  I'm especially in favor of rehiring people you've laid off.  In fact, I think when you lay people off you should do so with the idea that you will be rehiring them in the future so treat them as nicely as possible. If you treated them as fairly as possible during the layoff process, they'll be less likely to feel bitter.

I also like it when people have broad experience.  In many companies you must leave to gain different experience.  Companies are foolish to reject people with this broader experience.

You do need to listen to the people who worked with the candidate before--including peers and direct reports.  They often know things that former managers do not.  You do need to listen to the candidate explain why he left in the first place and why he came back.  You know more about the candidate and he knows more about you.  Therefore, if both parties desire to reunite, go for it!

For further reading:

Have a workplace dilemma?  Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

Photo by Dan4th, Flickr cc 2.0

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