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When Your Millennial Employee Leaves And Wants To Come Back

The new generations in the job market have a much more fluid relationship with their employer. How should HR respond?

More and more millennials are deciding to 'take a break' from their careers to find themselves
More and more millennials are deciding to "take a break" from their careers to find themselves
Verónica Carabajal

BUENOS AIRES— Should organizations let employees who resign return? What example would that give, and would it encourage others to leave? Should we reward a certain lack of commitment? These are some of the questions one hears in debates inside and among organizations in the working world, particularly in human resource departments.

The discussion is prompted by the increasing number of young people who decide to "take a break" in their careers in favor of personal experiences elsewhere, often an extended trip of self-discovery. Without wading into a discussion about what is or isn't "right," it's worth reflecting on some common starting points.

There is every reason to suppose they will be more loyal.

First, we should recall that any young person who leaves a job was initially selected to enter the firm, which means a presumed good fit within its organizational culture. Good employees who leave take with them not only their basic human skills and aptitudes, but also the investment the employer made with respect to their recruitment, learning curve and professional training.

For some, a semi-prolonged trip can be an opportunity to gain new experiences and even boost their ability, perhaps, to manage unfamiliar situations, make autonomous decisions or handle diverse cultural environments.

Given the above, young people who seek to return to previous employers could be coming back personally enriched and with unique life skills. There is every reason to suppose they will be more loyal, as they are choosing to return to their country and your firm after exposure to diverse environments.

Yet, enterprises are divided on whether or not to reopen the door.

Young people won't stay put despite the negative consequences Photo: Tim Gouw

Many believe there should be no coming back. But as a personnel consultant working for 20 years with challenges relating to talent, development and employment brands, I have to disagree. Preventing a return a priori means leaving someone with a good profile and experience — assuming, crucially, that they left on good terms — to the talent market. How long do we think it would take for a competitor to recruit that person?

One fundamental insight we have learned about generations Y and Z is that these young people do not think about staying forever in the same organization. As such, we'd be mistaken to think that a young person contemplating this type of experience would reconsider because of some "exemplary" action taken against a colleague who'd done the same thing earlier. There are good arguments against welcoming back certain departed employees, but I don't think firms can justify discarding talent they themselves helped develop just to "teach people a lesson."

Think of the new generation more as job consumers, and less as candidates seeking a job for life.

A young person's decision to resign is not always based just on pros and cons. Certainly, there is always room to help them reflect and make sure they are choosing a course while considering all variables. This is an exercise many HR professionals and even immediate bosses have done with young employees who have mentioned resigning. Indeed, conversations in a context of trust and good intentions create some unexpected space for mentoring in these very kinds of situations.

Finally, if we start to think of new generations more as job consumers, and less as candidates seeking a job for life, we might reflect on the following: Nobody would think of "teaching a lesson" to customers by stopping them from buying your product again, and forcing them to buy from competitors. Marketing people are paid precisely to find ways of bringing clients back after they have stopped buying your brand or products.

Many might see this as a debatable analogy, but it is also a creative way of viewing candidates and employees. As we know, many firms have started working with the concept of "employer branding" as a strategy, seeing this as a key to the future of HR management and recruitment.

From that perspective, we might reflect that the right move for firms is to view candidates as a consumer to be seduced and retained (for lack of better words), and for whom we would always keep the door open.

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