This is a question I have been asked a few times in my role as a coach, consultant and mentor for accounting firm owners and managers. It’s also a question I’ve had to answer when working inside firms on a few occasions.
I think the answer to this question is “it depends”. In my experience it depends a lot on:
- The circumstances of the person’s departure
- Their current “fit” for a role you are wanting to fill
Circumstance of departure
There is always a reason for a person leaving your firm although you may not always know what it is. I expect every firm to have some form of exit interview when each person leaves. This can and should help understand why the person is (really) leaving and help guide you in how you lead and manage your people. I’d also like to think that a person will never leave a firm on bad terms. I say to accountants never leave on bad terms because what goes around comes around and it is the same when you are the employer. I get that if a person has left on bad terms you are unlikely to re employ them. Things can change but I think the odds are pretty small on this one.
The bulk of people leave on good terms and typical reasons for leaving might be:
- Career opportunity that you were not offering (or at least not that they could see)
- Change in direction
- More money
- Just wanted a change
The more money is in my experience often not actually why a person has left but it was easier to say they are leaving for more money rather than something like I really didn’t like working with you (or someone else they reported to). So just be a bit cautious about immediately accepting the more money reason. Some years ago I worked in a firm where a good employee left out of the blue but a week later wanted to return. While the departure had taken us by surprise with hindsight it probably should not have. The person was re-employed after some good conversations about some changes in how that person would be working. Sometimes a younger employee might also be a little naïve when offered a seemingly great opportunity from a recruiter / firm only to realise it was not what was expected.
Current “fit” for a role you are wanting to fill
Whether it is a returning employee or anyone else it’s the same when it comes to this. Have you got really clear about the role you are trying to fill and the expectations of it? If so, how good a fit is the candidate for this role in terms of experience and most importantly cultural fit for your firm? If a person who left you was not a fit the first time around from a cultural perspective my view is they are unlikely to be a fit second time around. If a person left because you were not able to offer them the opportunities they were seeking but now you can then that is a conversation worth having.
It’s a great story when it works!
What I love about re-employing an ex-employee is the message it sends to your existing employees and others. It is an overwhelmingly positive story that reinforces your firm as a great place to be. For some of your team who might have been quietly contemplating a move it might just be what they need to put the thought out of their mind. The grass is not always greener. And as a leader in your firm I encourage you to ensure you do what you can to keep the grass green on your side of the fence. Our gardens thrive when given attention and so it is for our people.
PS In case you are wondering I have said both yes and no to returning employees and am convinced the right decision was made each time for the right reasons.