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A Phenomenological Study of the Boomerang-Employment Experience of Scientists and Engineers Open Access

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Talent management (TM), first introduced in 1997 by McKinsey & Company consultants, is broadly defined as the creation and maintenance of human capital management systems designed to support organizational success by effectively recruiting, utilizing, developing, and retaining high-performing and high-potential employees. One emerging TM strategy is the rehiring of former workers, commonly referred to as “boomerang employees.” While boomerang employees have long existed at many consulting and technology sector companies (Goodspeed, 2000; Rothenberger, 2000; Sullivan, 2006), recent data suggest boomerang employment has become an increasingly more common phenomenon outside those sectors, including at the Greenbelt campus of the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).Current literature suggests boomerang employees are associated with a number of positive outcomes, including reduced acquisition and onboarding costs (Kelly, 1997; Kontzer, 1999; Lyons, 2006; Sadler, 2010; Wescott, 2006); increased productivity (Gannon, 2004; Hirschman, 2000; Korn, 2011; Rice, 2008; Stern, 2005; Sullivan, 2006); greater loyalty (Herskovits, 2006; Kirsner, 1998); and greater retention rates (Hirschman, 2000; Lapowsky, 2010). This study will contribute to the developing TM field by furthering understanding of worker acquisition, retention, and turnover. Understanding boomerang employment could facilitate organizations’ abilities to develop, maintain, and benefit from lifetime affiliations with their high-performing and high-potential employees.The purpose of this phenomenological study was to comprehend boomerang employment using the following research question: How do scientists and engineers describe their experience with and understanding of boomerang-employment? A criterion-based purposeful and snowball sampling of eight scientists and engineers at NASA’s GSFC were interviewed for this study. Findings include a conceptual framework and essential description of the boomerang-employment phenomenon that suggests constructs and processes that might be refined, discarded, or validated by future research. In addition to the individual-level claims identified by the conceptual framework and essential description, the study identified “organizational gravity” as a key organization-level resource that appears to encourage employees to return (i.e., boomerang), and discourage them from continuously re-boomeranging.

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