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Welcoming Back Former Employees

If the opportunity arises, employers may want to consider rehiring workers who served the company well.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily eased concerns of a personnel shortage, the business aviation industry needs to continue its focus on workforce development and retention in anticipation of not only full recovery from COVID, but continued growth.

Former employees are one often overlooked – or even scoffed at – workforce pipeline. “Boomerang workers” are those who left an organization but want to return. Should companies even consider former employees for open positions? Experts say “yes,” but there are key questions to answer first:

  • Does your organization have a formal policy about rehiring former employees?
  • How can managers welcome back “boomerang workers”?
  • When shouldn’t an organization rehire a former employee?
  • How can employees ensure they leave on good terms and put themselves in a position to return to an organization at a later date?

Rehiring Not Automatic

Two top aviation recruiting and staffing experts providing some guidance on how to handle possible rehiring of former employees.

“A carte blanche policy never to hire back a former employee is a short-sighted perspective,” said Jennifer Pickerel, vice president of Aviation Personnel International. “This is especially true in aviation, where employees tend to be highly skilled in unique fields. You’re omitting a potentially significant pool of talent prospects.”

However, there are times when rehiring isn’t appropriate. For example, in cases of an employee who was terminated for cause. In other situations, the individual might be very talented, but a bad personality fit for an organization.

When thinking about rehiring a former employee, consider the “Keeper Test,” pioneered by Netflix. Every six months, managers should ask themselves if they would try to keep an employee who wanted to leave. If the answer is “no,” consider the reasons why and look for ways to help the employee improve. If the answer is “yes” and the employee eventually leaves, they pass the Keeper Test, so managers should entertain the prospect of them returning to your organization.

“Rehiring former employees can be really positive, but don’t bring back under‑performers.”

Karen Lockhart COO, In-Flight Crew Connections, Inc.

That said, rehires shouldn’t be automatic.

“Rehiring former employees can be really positive, but don’t bring back under-performers,” said Karen Lockhart, COO of In-Flight Crew Connections, Inc.

Review personnel files before even entertaining the idea of rehiring a former employee; you might have forgotten issues related to a former worker. This is also a good reason to document personnel concerns as they occur, even if they don’t rise to the level of disciplinary action.

Assessing Fit With the Current Organization

Managers should also consider the current organizational structure, culture and personality.

“What environment is the former employee coming back into?” said Lockhart, who noted that some employees who were laid off or furloughed due to the COVID-19 crisis might be recalled as the nation recovers from the pandemic, while others might not, which could change the dynamic of an organization.

Someone who fit well five years ago might not fit well with an organization that has evolved. For example, consider a flight department that was a Part 91 operation but has since obtained a Part 135 certificate and begun charter flying. Will someone primarily interested in a Part 91 structure and mission be happy in charter operations? Perhaps, but don’t assume.

Also, be sure to evaluate the former employee in terms of your current team’s skillset and personalities. Some managers look at the potential cost-savings of rehiring a former employee, particularly with pilots or maintenance technicians who have specialized training, but don’t settle for the wrong fit.

If you do decide to rehire a former employee, be consistent in your on-boarding procedures. Use the same process you would if this were a person who had never worked for the company before. Obviously, a returning pilot might only need recurrent training and checking in an aircraft. And any returning employee might be familiar with your expense reimbursement software or company digital library, but be sure to follow the same general on-boarding processes you would in any other scenario.

“They still need to go through the rigors of the interview process – just like their peers,” Pickerel said.

“Let the rest of the organization know a former employee has been rehired or recalled. Pave the way for the employee to return successfully.”

Jennifer Pickerel Vice President, Aviation Personnel International

“Build your orientation around that employee’s needs,” advised Lockhart, who provided an example of policy and procedure changes due to COVID management. “Also, let the rest of the organization know a former employee has been rehired or recalled. Pave the way for the employee to return successfully.”

Can You Go Back?

If you’re an employee leaving an organization, how can you make sure you’re “re-hirable” if you wish to return at a future date? First and foremost, be respectful of the employer you’re leaving.

“Some people really look forward to the exit interview – and not in a positive way,” said Pickerel. “It’s likely that part of the reason you’re getting a new position is because of a skillset you gained or improved by working with this employer. Be grateful for that experience.”

That doesn’t mean outgoing employees should lie; be honest and transparent as you leave. There are a lot of good reasons to leave an organization. For example, some people change jobs to be closer to aging parents. Or some leave because there was no opportunity for growth.

“Diplomatically present the voids in an organization during your exit interview in an effort to help them overcome those voids,” said Pickerel. Don’t do it to be spiteful.

“The best opportunity to return to a company is to leave on good terms,” said Lockhart, “but be prepared to sell yourself – how you’ve improved your skills or what you’ve learned since you worked for them last.”

Lockhart recommends employees stay in touch with former employers. Ask how business is going and see if this organization has challenges you might be able to help overcome. This can be especially productive for employees looking to be recalled or rehired after a pandemic-related furlough or layoff.

Overall, Pickerel says an organization’s philosophy on rehiring former employees should be “less about loyalty and more about commitment.”

An employee who was only with the company for 18 months but did a fantastic job and was committed to the organization should be welcomed back in the future. In fact, many major companies have alumni groups to keep in touch with people who depart the organization.

Remember, former employees aren’t considered enemies – they’re considered another leg in the recruiting stool. Don’t discount this important workforce pipeline!

Retention Better Than Rehiring

What’s better than hiring back a former employee? Not losing a good employee in the first place. But when is it appropriate to negotiate to keep an employee?

“Managers know in their gut,” said Pickerel.

If an employee considers leaving, be sure to ask why. Don’t assume the resignation is to make more money. Some people do leave for money, but if you are already providing a competitive salary, winning the person back through a salary renegotiation is likely to be a temporary solution.

Employees often leave because of a lack of opportunity to advance. This is especially true in smaller organizations. If an aviation operation already has a director of maintenance who is happy in their position and has many years left before retirement, a rising maintenance technician might not see an advancement opportunity or new challenge on the horizon.

Pickerel suggests solving the problem creatively. In the example above, if possible, consider creating a new position such as maintenance manager, crew chief or quality assurance manager. Then provide appropriate training so the employee can move forward, gain new skills and be challenged.

In general, a manager needs to get to the root of why an employee is considering resigning.

“Have an authentic dialogue between the employer and employee,” suggests Pickerel. “Ask them, ‘Do you have any interest in staying? If [the answer is] yes, help me understand why you’re leaving?’”

Lockhart says regular, candid discussions with employees can help employers uncover situations or concerns that employees may be dealing with, giving employers the opportunity to resolve them before a worker resigns.

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