The Prodigal Son Returns: Are Former Employees Gone for Good?


Why talent retention isn’t always the be all and end all

The voices of today’s emerging workforce, or so-called Millennials, are calling out for more. More choice, more freedom, more experience. There is a longing for work that aligns with their core values, enriches their lives and allows them to make a difference.1 A result of this is a sense of restlessness as people continue to chase their horizons. Like the Prodigal Son, they leave their home organisations, in pursuit of more.

This search for more experience is reflected in statistics, as people’s tendency to leave their jobs is increasing. Recent research has found that 45% of employers are anticipating new hires to leave them within two years.2 This presents significant challenges to companies and organisations seeking to retain the young, talented individuals. Given this, it is hardly surprising that businesses are investing resources in talent retention, but are they investing effectively?

Despite their negative press and high expense, employee retention bonuses have doubled since 2010.3 These have improved short-term retention but widely failed to foster loyalty and reduce turnover.4 The same research found that much greater success has been seen in retention programmes that focus on providing more learning and development opportunities and improving managerial support. These strategies have tackled the feeling that “the grass is always greener” elsewhere and have significantly increased employee satisfaction and loyalty.

That said, even companies running excellent learning and development programmes may lose top talent from time to time. Millennials remain opportunity-seeking and might become disengaged with a lack of sufficient opportunity. Is clinging onto these individuals always the best option?

Perhaps not.

Similar to the Prodigal Son, employees who have left to other companies in search of more experience can come ‘home’ to their original employers, bringing their new skills with them. They will likely be inducted quicker than new hires and be familiar and compatible with the workplace culture. Returning employees might even suggest to current employees that they have found the greener grass already. Organisations then, should be considering means for attracting returners.

The first step in this process is ensuring that people leave the business feeling appreciated and with leaders acknowledging their contribution. This might be facilitated, for instance, by conducting leaving interviews. Then, focus could also be given to maintaining relationships with old employees and forming alumni communities. These can easily be maintained through social media platforms and provide a way for company news to be shared and for people’s achievements to be acknowledged and celebrated by the former business. Organisations can even invite past employees ‘home’ to company events or to share expertise. These efforts could take a step to making people feel connected and valued.

If people can look and see their former organisation holding values that resonate with their own, still with open arms and with room for them to make a difference, then returning home would seem like a logical move. How can your organisation keep their arms open?





1Pfau, B. N. (2016, April). What do millennials really want at work? The same things the rest of us do. Retrieved from

2CareerBuilder. (2016). Nearly One-Third of employers expect workers to job-hop. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from

3World at Work (2014, June). Bonus Programs and Practices [Online]. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from

4McKinsey. (2016, July). People analytics reveals three things HR may be getting wrong. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from


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