HealthSeptember 06, 2023

Why “boomerang” nurses want their jobs back post-COVID-19

Weary and seeking stability as hourly rates drop for travel nurses, boomerang nurses return to prior employers with new skills and fresh perspectives.

Lured during the pandemic by lucrative hourly rates ranging from $70 to more than $300, droves of nurses left their full-time hospital jobs to become travel nurses. In the fall of 2021, travel nurse openings increased by nearly 500% compared to 2020, with many making as much as $10,000 per week.

With COVID-19 no longer considered a national emergency, demand has since dropped, with the average hourly rate for a travel nurse now approximately $51 per hour, bringing it more in line with that of a staff bedside nurse.

The drop in salary may not be the only deterrent when considering travel nursing. Travel nurses have to incur high expenses, with short-term housing alone estimated to capture a quarter of their income. Plus, many nurses who opt to become travel nurses find the time away creates stress on their families, particularly if a family member becomes ill or there is a death in the family. Other issues include challenges working through travel nurse agencies, from payroll errors to hospital assignments, and may present in the form of inconveniences such as not being provided the right access codes to major headaches like shift scheduling errors, which may or may not be a part of the travel nurses' negotiated agreement.

For these reasons and more, hospitals are now seeing a trend toward former nurse employees wanting to return to their jobs. Referred to as “boomerang” nurses, these employees left the company for personal or professional reasons, later returning as rehires.

This boomerang trend has been widely reported. In April 2022, a Wall Street Journal article noted that three-quarters of employees who quit to take new jobs during the pandemic regret leaving their former employer. Many felt misled about their new roles, and 40% indicated that they would try to get their former jobs back. This trend was especially true in younger staff who may not have as much experience interviewing and negotiating for new roles.

Benefits of rehiring boomerang employees

Why rehire boomerang nurses? For starters, boomerang employees have gained new experience and skills, which gives them a fresh perspective that can help your organization grow and improve. They also know your culture and typically don't need further training and education, allowing them to assimilate back into the workforce more quickly and productively than someone without prior experience.

Where employers were once leery about returning staffers, there has been a mindset shift in the post-COVID environment. Boomerang employees are less costly to reorient and know the organizational culture. Many resignations in nursing over the past two years occurred because nurses felt burned out and exhausted while not realizing that staffing shortages are now everywhere. Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that boomerang employees are typically more satisfied and more committed than external hires. Because of this, they also perform at higher levels than their peers, secure better performance reviews than new hires, and are more likely to be promoted than non-Boomerang peers.

Recognizing these advantages, 76% of hospital healthcare human resources professionals now say they are more open to hiring boomerang employees, shifting away from legacy company policies against hiring them back.

Recruiting considerations

With just 10% of nurses looking for a new position at any given time, boomerang nurses offer organizations a good pool of experienced candidates to help meet demand. Indeed, many organizations are luring back former nurse employees by offering better pay and benefits. Other perks include new growth opportunities and more flexible schedules. In fact, states like Mississippi have even signed into law the “Skilled Nursing Home and Hospital Nurses Retention Loan Repayment Program,” which incentivizes nurses who stay and work in Mississippi — strengthening the pipeline of nursing professionals and improving the quality of care for local residents.

Of course, once a boomerang nurse rejoins an organization, a top priority should be to retain them. In a Becker's Hospital Review article, Danielle Lombard-Sims, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Chief Resources Officer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, says a big part of this is being “on par with” competitors and truly listening to feedback from exit interviews and engagement strategies. “If you understand why people left, then you can go back and say, 'Hey, we heard you. Here are some things we're doing differently.' Without that understanding, it would be very hard to drive a boomerang strategy.”

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