Gone Today but here Tomorrow: Extending the Unfolding Model of Turnover to Consider Boomerang Employees


  • We would like to thank Tom Lee, Kevin Mossholder, Joanna Campbell, Jon Carr, Michael Cole, Aaron Taylor, and participants in the invited scholar seminar at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations for feedback on previous drafts of the manuscript.


Turnover research typically views voluntary turnover as an end state that severs the employment relationship permanently. However, this perspective overlooks the possibility that an employee who quits may return in the future. Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggest that these “Boomerangs” can be a valuable staffing resource for their organizations. Yet, research regarding this type of employee is largely absent. Thus, we know little about whether the experiences of these temporary leavers differ from those who leave an organization permanently. In this paper, we examined differences between Boomerangs (employees who quit but are later rehired) and “Alumni” (employees who quit but will not return) using both qualitative and quantitative data. In a large sample of professional service employees, we found that Boomerangs and Alumni reported different reasons for having quit, which meant they were more likely to be classified on different paths in the unfolding model of turnover. In addition, survival analyses on the time to turnover suggest that Boomerangs quit earlier than Alumni in their original tenure, paradoxically suggesting that employees who quit earlier may be the very employees who will return in the future. Together, our findings suggest an extension to the unfolding model that considers how the timing of and reasons for turnover impact post-turnover (return) decisions.