Should you re-employ a quitter?

Rehiring a former employee can be a tricky thing to manage. What if your star employee leaves, you don’t manage to find a replacement and you really want them back? Is it worth eating humble pie to get them to return or accepting you might have been second choice when they ask for their old job back?

Simon Kelman was head of public relations at, but left when he was approached by a recruiter to work with an “exciting startup”. He says: “After a 20-minute interview I was offered the job, a pay increase and a lot of benefits.”

But the job didn’t meet his expectations. “I had gone from a collaborative, agile environment to an environment that was less adaptable. I missed working with my former colleagues and overall the new role was making me unhappy,” he says.

Mr Kelman discussed returning with his former employer, which he did in an amended role that better suited both his needs and the needs of the company. He says: “I feel I learnt a lot, especially the value of working with people whose opinions you respect and who respect yours. In a practical sense, I refreshed old marketing skills and ad-writing skills, which I hadn’t used in a few years.

You have an even more committed and loyal employee

“I enjoyed working for the company, they felt the same and I got to come back to a role more suitable for the company’s future.”

His boss Keith Marsden says: “It took us less than five minutes to decide to bring Simon back when we knew he was available. But we didn’t bring Simon back because of his particular skill in PR, even though he is very good at that; we brought him back because of his extremely positive attitude and flexibility to get involved more broadly than with just PR. In companies our size, people like that are a great asset.”

The benefits

Rehiring an old employee, says Mr Marsden, means they are a known quantity, which eliminates the recruitment risk of hiring the wrong person. “But, more importantly, the returning employee has experienced life away from the company and is likely to be returning because they realise that our grass was pretty green after all. As a result, you have an even more committed and loyal employee,” he says.

Mr Marsden advises taking time with a returning quitter to understand their motives. “If a new role hasn’t worked out, they could just be coming back until they find another opportunity – this is the last thing you need,” he warns.

Gi Fernando, founder and partner of digital transformation company Freeformers, regularly rehires former staff. “We believe that once you are a Freeformer, you are always a Freeformer,” he says. “While we never like to see our great employees leave, we understand that being able to go off and experience other things, and learn new skills, is the key to success in the future of work.”

Mr Fernando thinks a change of mindset is perhaps needed from the traditional human resources outlook. “Think instead about what staff have to offer now and in the future. Then they won’t be scared to ask to come back after taking on a new challenge, meaning you and they will benefit from the time they have spent elsewhere,” he concludes.