Nicolas Embleton

March 30, 2021

Should you re-hire someone that left? A cultural take on re-hiring.

Someone recently asked on LinkedIn "Should You Rehire an Employee Who Left Your Company?", the poll had 2 options: YES and NO. As with all things involving humans, I think the reality is a little more nuanced. My answer would be "Potentially", here's why.

The Relationship Aspect

Sometimes, the relationship ends very well and the person genuinely wanted to "check options out". Maybe this person got in your organization as a first job, maybe it has been 5 years, maybe it has only been 6 months or a year but feeling trapped within a culture that may not be perceived as ideal. There are many legitimate personal reasons that would push someone to incept this thought. These come from real feelings, perceptions, fears, needs and such. I would personally re-hire this person if the intent / motivation behind the moves (leaving then coming back) are genuine and healthy. 

Other times, the person leaves with a sour taste and comes back for dubious reasons like better pay or thinking the other job is cooler or nicer, only to find that grass was actually greener where this person had left from. I would likely not re-hire such a person.

In summary, if it comes from a place of value and internally consistent with that person's values, compatible with the organization's values, I would vote YES, for things that are only opportunistic and gain-related (or worse), I would vote NO.

The Cultural Aspect

Often times, some of the very reasons that pushed the person to leave in the first place are great pieces of information about your organization and your culture too. Similarly, how you publicly express your opinion on something as simple as a "rehire policy" can create a culture you may not be expecting. Let me explain.

Career moves are important and tough decisions. They require a lot of thoughts and research, they require you to decide with little information and take a leap of faith as to whether the decision is good or not, whether the organization you're joining is right for you, whether the colleagues will accept you and reverse, whether you will like what you will do, whether the culture will suit you, and so on. You usually end up taking a gut feeling decision, making it a very uncertain and therefore stressful event.

It would be unfair and anxiety inducing to tell people "no rehire policy", putting pressure and therefore making reality less enjoyable with a greater chance of generating a culture that's one perceived as judging - you have left me and it's your fault - and retaliating - if you leave you can't come back. These are the basic grounds of a lower psychological safety. 

On the other hand, it shouldn't be a "no rules" policy. A culture where there isn't any social sense of responsibility gives the impression that everything is up for grabs and anyone can do anything. We all love freedom, but the humans we are need some ground rules and evolve better when we agree on them and keep each other accountable in the eyes of the group. Only then, in my opinion, can you build a strong sense of psychological safety, as well as a sense of collectivity, your group is here for you and you have a 2nd chance, provided that you are genuine and act from a place of value.

By doing so, you create a collectivity that tolerates failure (leaving and regretting it) and that has your back and gives you a second chance. Since the group will accept you back only if you are perceived as genuine and acting consistently to your values, the incentive gives your organization a greater chance to build a positive culture, based on honesty, trust and care.