Remember the old days, when an employee who left the organization was implied to be (or outright pronounced) persona non-grata? I once had a boss who openly referred to departing employees as traitorous and truly departed in his mind (i.e., "She/he is dead to me!").

Times have changed.

Most people don't stay in the same roles or with the same companies for years on end anymore. The 21st century professional is mobile and sometimes that mobility brings employees back around full-circle, to which we say: cool! Call them boomerang employees, encore hires, returners, second time arounders, or rebounders, the effect of hiring former employees can be productive and profitable for employers and employees alike.

Although substantive research has yet to be done on the numbers of companies re-hiring former employees, we know anecdotally that it's an increasingly common practice. There's no shortage of stories of late that address the phenomenon of the boomerang employee--and nearly all of what's been published in the past year inevitably mentions the rebound of LeBron James in terms of his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. James' legacy may inadvertently be as tied to his status as the most noted among boomerang employees as it is for his performance on the court, especially in view of his less-than-fond-farewell to Cleveland the first time around.

Star athletes aside, the scenario of an employee returning to the fold is not at all uncommon, thanks in large part to the ubiquity of social media, cited by the New York Times as a major factor in the uptick in boomerang employees because of its unparalleled utility in keeping track of former employees.

Some companies make keeping former employees engaged via social networking a recruitment strategy, and why not? The cost savings alone in conducting a search and getting a new employee onboarded are huge.

Welcoming a former employee back for an encore benefits organizations in other ways too--the chances are very good that new/old employee is coming back into your workforce with new skills and fresh insights and ideas about how to get things done. And the concern about hiring for culture and time to full productivity? Not a problem if you're bringing someone back who already gets it.

Of course, not every former employee is inclined to want to return, and not every loss is a regrettable one, but if the circumstances and timing are right, a former employee may be a perfect hire.

i4cp's recommendations for employers:

  • Breaking up doesn't have to be the end of the conversation
    Make it easier for former employees to come back by staying connected via virtual alumni networks, such as dedicated Facebook and LinkedIn pages. These provide you with a platform for continuing the conversation and getting the word out quickly when you're hiring.
  • Ask tough questions
    Go beyond the usual checklist and conduct in-depth exit interviews with valued employees and share the information that is gathered, leveraging what you learn to make improvements. And ask those same questions of a former employee who is considering coming back. Those insights, aided by the clarity of time and distance, may be even more illuminating.
  • Make sure the culture supports and celebrates returners
    If your organization welcomes former employees, make sure you are getting this message out and celebrate those returns. Send out an announcement about the employee coming back that includes an update on what they have been up to during their time away, or hold a casual "welcome back" get-together. Leave a gift on their desk for their first day back that includes some branded items, or a card their team members can sign. A small personal gesture goes a long way.
  • Widen the net
    Think about some of the high-potential employees your organization may have lost during the recession years. Have they been working for the competition for a few years? Did they become entrepreneurs? Think there's no way they might be lured back? You don't know unless you try. The "high professionals" among your alumni cohort--those with depth of expertise and unmatched mastery in certain areas--may be exactly what your organization needs for a specific role or project.

i4cp's recommendations for employees:

  • Your mom's advice about not burning bridges holds true
    Leave respectfully and assist your employer with the transition. No one can predict the future and while the "take-this-job-and-shove-it!" resignation fantasy is fun to entertain (and not uncommon, let's be honest), the satisfaction of following through probably won't be worth it in the long run. Especially if time, which brings change and unforeseen turns of events, renders your former company a pretty attractive prospective employer down the road.
  • Don't poison the well on the way out
    When valued employees leave an organization, anxiety that others may follow suit can sometimes run high, and with good reason. Change can be contagious. But don't be viewed as the one leading the exodus. Avoid engaging in detailed conversations with colleagues about the reasons why you decided to move on--especially if you believe that the things you say may make it awkward for the co-workers you're leaving behind.
  • Move on but stay in touch
    So much of a great opportunity is timing and luck, right? The new job you're heading for may be exactly what you expected. But it might not. So don't sever all ties to your former employer, especially if there's a possibility that a year (or less) into your new gig, you realize you may have made a mistake. There's no harm in checking in once in a while, and your timing may be perfect for the next opportunity in the form of a new job in a familiar setting.
  • Bring you're A-game every day, including your last day
    Don't adopt a short-timers attitude and disengage the moment you give notice. Keep working at 100% until your last day. Being viewed as a professional with a solid work ethic and unimpeachable integrity is your most valuable currency, so guard it carefully and resist the "I'm SO outta here!" posture as your final week on the job winds down. Be the consummate team player the coaches (and the other players) want back. A rebound may seem out of the question today, but you never know. Ask LeBron.