How to Hire Former Retail Employees

When hiring, all businesses seek to do one thing: bring in the best person for the job. However, this is easier said than done, as the career marketplace can be a complex and competitive environment. Not to mention, the global economy was shaken by the events of 2020, so retail and other industries have changed how they do business. 

Operating during the pandemic has caused people and employers to become more flexible and innovative. In the last year, many retailers were forced to furlough or permanently lay off employees due to decreased or halted business. Many retailers have decreased staffing in response to COVID-19 and changing business needs. Now, as business operations return to “normal”, retailers are faced with a new challenge: rebuilding their teams. 

Retail hiring can be a tough challenge even in a normal economy. These (mostly) entry level positions typically have high turnover and short tenure. Many retail employees often work seasonally, part time during school, or simply as a way to enter the workforce. These circumstances (among others) can lead to “boomerang” employees – people who leave and seek to be reemployed at a later date.

This begs the question: should you rehire former retail employees? And if so, what’s the best way to go about the process? 

This article explores the benefits and considerations when it comes to rehiring former employees, and the questions retailers should ask if considering a rehire.

The benefits of rehiring employees

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Furlough or layoff due to COVID-19, seasonal employment, and simply seeking employment elsewhere are common reasons for employees to leave their retail job. Assuming the employee leaves on good terms, you should not exclude them from re-applying. In fact, there are several benefits of rehiring a former employee.

You’ll have lower hiring costs

“Hiring new employees would be a lot of work, from training and providing them the knowledge in regards with your business,” explains Robert Johnson, founder at Sawinery. “On the other hand, rehiring for employees will only take a little bit of refresher and would result in low hiring costs, therefore, productivity within the company is more efficient.”

The average cost of onboarding an employee varies greatly, but research shows a rehire costs half as much as a net new employee. Rehiring a former employee is often less costly and results in a quicker onboarding process. 

Bringing on a new employee means teaching the technical knowledge and the cultural knowledge needed for the position. Training on a POS system alone can take several days, and getting the “lay of the land” also takes time. Bringing a former employee back can reduce or eliminate the time it takes to get someone up to speed.

Less worry around cultural fit

An immeasurable benefit of a rehire is their understanding the culture of the business. Not having to teach the intangible aspects of company culture significantly shortens the time it takes to get someone up to speed. 

This can also have an impact on the perception of company culture by other employees in the business. Rehiring a former employee shows that the business values their people and doesn’t hold grudges if someone leaves voluntarily. Returning employees may also affect the “grass is always greener” mentality by showing they are opting to return, thus potentially improving further attrition.

Your business may benefit from the employee’s new skills

If an employee leaves for another opportunity and later returns, your business can also benefit from the additional skills they acquired. New skills and continued work experience often make for a more well-rounded employee. By gaining diverse work experience, a rehire may return better equipped and more productive.

What to consider with rehiring

Depending on the reason for and circumstances of leaving, there may be risks of a rehire and several variables should be considered. 

During COVID-19, nearly 2 million store-based retail workers were temporarily or permanently laid off. While these layoffs were largely outside of employer control, former employees could harbor ill feelings of resentment for being one of the furloughs or layoffs. This will not always be the case, but special consideration should be given during the interview process and review of the exit interview to ensure grievances aren’t held upon their return. If that turns out to be the case, it may be best to reconsider the hiring decision. 

Here are some questions to consider when you’re thinking about rehiring a former employee. 

What were the circumstances of separation? 

Seasonal employment, layoffs due to business needs, employee initiated separation, and performance based terminations are not held equal. Looking at the reason for separation is the first step in determining if they’re eligible for rehire.

How long have they been away and are their former colleagues still employed?

If an employee is gone for a short amount of time and was in good standing upon departure, bringing them back can be seamless. If the employee was gone for an extended period of time or the business has significantly changed in their absence, the process may feel more like a new hire. Not all rehires will be the same given those factors. When re-onboarding, leadership should communicate clearly with the rehire to make sure they are properly supported.

Was this candidate a high performer previously, and are they the best candidate now?

A benefit of considering a rehire is the documented information on their performance. If they were a high performer before, research shows their performance will likely remain the same upon rehire. Evaluating their previous work provides unique insights which can only be gained from having a previous work history.

Did the exit interview reveal any relevant information indicating a high-risk rehire?

If an exit interview was conducted, using that as a source of information can be illuminating. Did they leave because they were unhappy? Or did they simply pursue a career growth opportunity? The answer to that can be highly indicative if re-onboarding them would be a good fit and also demonstrates the importance of conducting exit interviews.

Rehiring former employees: 3 tips to do it right

Now that we covered the key considerations of rehiring previous employees, let’s look at some best best practices to ensure the process goes smoothly. 

Have them go through a formal process

When considering a rehire, an interview and formal application process should be observed. This sets hiring managers up for success and formalizes the process for all applicants. Adhering to regular hiring practices as a standard for all candidates helps to reduce bias when interviewing in order to hire the best fit. 

As Johnson puts it, “Being rehired must not give them an advantage to easily get back in the company. You should still let them go through with the right process as this will help you in setting up clear expectations and so it won’t be unfair to the other employees.”

Ensure that past issues (if any) don’t come up again

If the candidate had any previous issues during their employment, it’s worth digging into them to ensure that they don’t come up when the candidate is rehired. 

“If your former employee had any concerns during her exit interview, or if current employees have already opened up about potential problems, it’s important to bring them up during the interview,” says Diego Cardini founder and director at The Drum Ninja

“The idea here is to see if prior troubles will resurface and have an impact on the former employee’s ability. If he had problems with the company in the past, he’ll want to know that they’ve been remedied. You should also bring up any concerns you have about the employee’s performance or fit. It’s an excellent technique to reduce the chances of the boomerang applicant quitting as soon as he’s been rehired.”

Manage expectations properly

Setting the right expectations is a must, says Igor Avidon, founder and chief strategist at Avidon Marketing Group.

“Let your employee know about your new expectations to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Treat them like any other new employee and let them know who they should report to and who they should go to if they have any questions or concerns. Don’t just assume that they know everything just because they have worked with you before.”

The bottom line

Rehiring decisions are incredibly nuanced. A mindful approach and thoughtful questions will help you make the best choice when considering who to bring on to your teams. Hopefully, the above recommendations give you some clarity on how to move forward with your rehiring efforts. 

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.

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