Hello Again! The Pros & Cons Of Going Back To A Job You Quit

Photographed by Francena Ottley
Though not new, the phrase 'boomerang employee' is being flung around workplaces (and the Internet) with increasing frequency of late. If early predictions are correct, the so-called Great Resignation could lead to some people wanting their old jobs back.

According to a study conducted by Microsoft, almost half of 18 to 25-year-olds around the world considered quitting their job this summer — although how many actually resigned is still unclear. What we do know is that reasons for resigning have widened to include new, pandemic-related ones. For many, COVID-19 has spurred a realignment of priorities and quitting has been a positive choice. For others, the Great Resignation is not the empowering, global turning point it's numerously been painted as. The reasons behind resignations are nuanced and various: difficult to collect, harder to analyse. Perhaps childcare has impacted the ability to keep a job due to schools being closed, or for frontline workers who bore the brunt of the catastrophe, working conditions may have become untenable. Perhaps we were swept up in 'anti-work' fervour championed by those who have the means to quit, only to realise that for the vast majority, it is economically impossible.
So what happens if your post-pandemic situation has shifted, you're available again or you simply change your mind? Perhaps you've got a new job that isn't quite working. "Whether it’s a week or a month or a few days in, someone saying [their new job] isn't looking like it’s a great fit isn't something to be embarrassed about," LinkedIn's Brendan Browne assured us back in 2018. Good news. He also advised us to "be thoughtful, intentional, and respectful when you leave, to leave on a good note".
But what if the note you left on was an F sharp? Perhaps things went off-key and you 'rage quit'. Given the circumstances, is it time for employers to do better and ask for us back? Perhaps 'boomerang employers' will be the next corporate buzzword. (We can hope, right?)
"A lot of the time when we see people leaving jobs, the last thing they want to do on God's green earth is go back," explains London-based recruitment consultant Julia Walton. But if you do quit and want to return, for whatever reason, she urges caution. "From both a personal wellbeing and professional development point of view, the candidate has got to be careful, and really analyse the reasons they left in the first place," she warns. "I think it really depends on why you left and what's changed about you. And equally: what's changed about the employer in that time?” 
The good news is that if you decide going back is the best way forward for you, employers are much more open to it than they once were. "Until relatively recently, it was a bit of a no-no. But now, it is something that we're hearing our clients are actually really proud of," Walton explains. Traditionally associated with office jobs, Walton (who works mainly in healthcare recruitment) notes that the trend of boomerang employees is now emerging cross-industry. She believes one reason for the shift in employer attitude to work rebounds is driven by public perception: "For an employer, it looks really good for them to say: 'We've had X number of people return to us this year'."
Take HR tech company Kronos, for instance. "If your ideal career opportunity knocks twice at Kronos, we invite you to answer the door," reads the website enthusiastically. "We openly welcome high-performing former employees to rejoin our workforce." The company even has a landing page entitled "Boomerang Back To Kronos", dedicated to enticing – and celebrating – returning employees.
This increased demand for attracting old employees could come from employer concerns about getting the right person for the role. An October 2021 survey from learning company Pearson revealed that almost two-thirds of polled companies are worried about their ability to find recruits with the right skills for their vacancies. Meanwhile, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of job vacancies in July to September 2021 hit an all-time high of 1,102,000 — an increase of 318,000 from its pre-pandemic, January to March 2020 level.
Could the perfect candidate for the job be the one that got away? Certainly, ex-colleagues present an attractive proposition on paper: they have all the knowledge gained from any interim experiences, paired with pre-existing company awareness and workflow familiarity. Win-win.
But what's in it for the returners? "If you rejoined a company, there used to be a subconscious sense of going backwards — almost like moving back in with your parents," says Walton. "But this is changing." Boomeranging can actually offer certain unique benefits to the employee (the hackneyed example of Steve Jobs returning to Apple after getting fired is an oft-quoted success story here). But Walton agrees that familiarity can be advantageous. As Kronos' website says: "Familiarity with the Kronos culture, easier training, and faster ramp-up to high-level performance benefit both the boomerang employee and our organisation." The implication is: returning employees have the opportunity to progress and grow within the company – perhaps to the chagrin of loyal employees who stay put.

Staying put is becoming increasingly rare, in any case, as career paths weave rather than progress linearly as they once tended to do. Millennials have long been dubbed the ‘job hop generation’ – we are expected to hold an average of 12 different jobs in our careers. (Walton, too, cites that those born post-1990 as the key movers and shakers.) This naturally opens up the potential to return to an existing workplace more than once, as doors revolve and windows of opportunity reopen.

It was the mentors and wonderful characters that kept me coming back.

Jane*, 23, has an impressive track record when it comes to boomeranging at work, both before and during the pandemic. "I’ve been working on and off for five years for the same media company since I was 18, and I've returned four times over," she tells R29. "Coming fresh out of school, I was thrown into the deep end, and working at this company was like nothing I had ever experienced before. As I did not have a degree, I didn't have confidence branching out into the industry and because the company in question actually gave me a chance, it felt familiar and a somewhat safe place to be." 
Though she enjoyed the work, the role lacked the kind of immediate progression that Jane was after. She successfully moved elsewhere to advance her career but was continually drawn back to the old role. "It was the mentors and wonderful characters that kept me coming back," she explains. "These people are – now that I'm leaving again (!) – the best part of the job."
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Jane was let go from a short-term contract at the height of the pandemic, then asked to return a few months down the line, which she did as she was in need of work against a backdrop of COVID-19. "In my most recent return to work, my experience has honestly had its ups and downs." The pandemic had influenced the company's working culture, she explains, and the role she returned to wasn't as she had expected. "It just wasn't the same anymore and I was admittedly naive for thinking it would be." This time, she thinks she has moved on from the company for good, and into an exciting position elsewhere. "We learn!" she says.
Jane also advises that returning to a prior employer may not be for everyone. "I would recommend to anyone thinking of boomeranging to consider if returning back would actually develop their skills, and if it fits in with their career progression. Thankfully my return taught me a hell of a lot, even if it wasn't exactly the position I was after. Use the familiarity of the company to your advantage, but if it doesn't satisfy you anymore, make the leap elsewhere."
Ideally, the employer would be open to listening to what made you want to leave in the first place (assuming there were issues). It was the search for better balance that prompted Adele Ogun to resign from her 'dream job' as a lawyer during the pandemic. Now, part of her new work as a freelance consultant centres around helping companies curb resignation by retaining and re-attracting key talent in clever, mutually beneficial ways, including through flexibility. "The legal industry is embracing the concept of flexible working with innovative companies like Peerpoint leading the charge by connecting talented lawyers who want more control over their careers with leading employers with interim needs for legal support," she explains. Company leaders across the board are considering ways in which they must level up to keep employees involved and happy, not forced into a position of quitting or tempted by another opportunity.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we don't know what's around the corner and forgiving ourselves for any accelerative or incendiary life decisions — like quitting and then regretting it — made during a global crisis is probably a good shout. But as with a messy breakup, it's up to both parties to prove they're right for each other and work towards positive reconciliation. If you have the luxury of being able to make a decision before heading back to an old place of employment, analysing the reasons for departure appears crucial.
*Name changed to protect anonymity

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