Three years ago, one of your most promising middle managers approached you to tender his resignation after 2 and a half years on the job.  He had been head-hunted to join another Company in a similar line of work, but with regional responsibilities and a very significant pay increase.  Despite all of your efforts to retain him, you eventually accept his resignation and wish him all the best in his future.  Now, he’s seated in front of you again – this time as a candidate for a department head position.  You look through his resume and recognize his professional growth over the past thee years.  You know he is a good worker and will be a perfect fit for the job, but…. is it really a good idea?

A “Revolving Door” refers to a situation where an employee who had left the company rejoins either in a similar, or more senior capacity.  Many companies do not have a clear policy on such situations, preferring to remain silent and leaving such decisions to the hiring managers.  However, such a potentially sensitive decision should rightfully be governed by policy and guidelines.  There are pros and cons of either allowing or disallowing such practice:

  • Those who disallow such a practice often cite “fairness to existing staff”, “conflicts of interest” and “cultural differences” as reasons for not allowing ex-employees to return.   They are also concerned about sending the wrong message to other employees and emboldening others to leave since there is always a possibility of returning if things don’t work out as planned. 
  • On the oher hand, those who allow such practices recognize the value of a returning employee in terms of the ability to hit the ground running, and to send a signal to others that “there is no better place to work” since staff who have left eventually return.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive right or wrong approach.  Which approach you decide on will depend on the nature of your business, the organization culture, the difficulty in finding replacements, and your dependence on tacit knowledge and relationships for business success. 

In its most basic form, a “Revolving-Door” policy should:

  • define eligibility – “Revolving-door” is not “Open-door”.  Not every ex-employee should be allowed to return.  The policy should set out clear eligibility criteria including tenure, performance, and the availability of a vacancy before an ex-employee can be considered for re-employment;
  • address internal equity – there will need to be a careful balance between making it worthwhile for an ex-employee to return and how his/her peers are being rewarded; and
  • address compliance and regulatory issues – there needs to be careful consideration of the possible conflicts of interest in cases where the returning employee has been working with a customer, supplier, partner, competitor, or regulatory body.

A well drafted “Revolvng Door” policy establishes clear and transparent guidelines for employees and hiring managers and serves to prevent abuse of the system.  At the same time, it frees you to leverage on resources and talents that would otherwise be lost to somebody else – most likely a competitor.