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With skill shortages, should you hire an ex-employee?

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Skill shortages means that it could be a good move for your business to re-employ former staff members. What are the pitfalls to look out for?

If you’re struggling to recruit, there’s a talent pool of candidates you may not have considered: your ex-employees. And research in 2015 suggested that 65% of managers would think about re-employing a former staff member. With Brexit, skill shortages and job uncertainty because of the pandemic, this figure is likely to be a lot higher in 2021.

Clearly, hiring the wrong candidate can be expensive. And someone who’s already been with your company is a known quantity. Chances are, they’ll need less onboarding time (if any) and will be able to get to work straightaway. But rehiring won’t always be a straightforward solution. Let’s take a look at the different scenarios.

When rehiring due to skill shortages is OK: if they were a lockdown layoff

As we know from our client base at HR GO, sadly many businesses had to make the tough decision to lay off staff during the first lockdown. But as things start to open up again, refilling some of those positions will shoot to the top of the to-do list as employers look to expand their workforces. And seeking out people who you had to say goodbye to last year makes sense - as well as being the right thing to do.

When it’s OK: if the grass wasn’t greener after all

Businesses lose good people every day despite their best efforts. But what if an employee leaves your company for pastures new, then realises they’re not happy in their new role and wants to return? Perhaps their job doesn’t turn out to be quite as it seemed and they feel the grass wasn’t greener after all.

Clearly it depends on each situation. But as long as your former employee left on good terms with the rest of the team, our advice is to consider their case. Returning workers can bring with them valuable experiences, fresh viewpoints and new ways of doing things.

One word of warning: don’t be surprised if that person is still looking for a new role, even if you welcome them back. You may need to work on the issues that prompted them to job hunt in the first place. Or you may need to just accept that they’re likely to jump ship again soon.

When it’s not OK to rehire due to skill shortages: if they left on bad terms

Of course, bringing back an ex-employee can be a positive move if their old team is genuinely glad to see them again.

But if they left under a cloud, or there were personnel issues, it's an unwise decision. And if disciplinary action was involved in their departure, clearly it’s a definite ‘no’. Just as you’d carefully consider employing someone who’d been fired from a previous role, it’s key to see the huge warning signs involved in rehiring someone with negative associations.

Some people burn bridges on their way out - and it would rarely do your business good to pull down the drawbridge to welcome them back.

Getting back with an ex

Bringing back past employees to the workforce might be just the way to boost your workforce as we exit the pandemic. But take care to make your expectations clear up front, and don’t assume that everyone will welcome them back.

Team dynamics do change. Old relationships and alliances might have shifted in the time that person was away - especially if there have been promotions during their time away. And always bear in mind the original reason this person left. Could historic problems resurface?

It’s true that a former team member already knows the ropes, as well the people and the culture. They may just slot straight back in. But it’s crucial you go about rehiring in the right way, or your team and wider business could suffer.

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It can be tricky when a member of staff announces they’re leaving. Read our guide on what not to do if someone resigns.

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