When Chris, an HR professional, was approached by a rival energy company to lead a new management project, he saw it as a career change he couldn’t turn down.
“My current company wasn’t ready to do it yet,” says Chris, who lives in Calgary, Canada. “It was a great opportunity to have an experience doing something that would not have been possible otherwise.”
The change in 2020 went well. Chris, whose last name is being withheld for job security reasons, accepted the job and managed the project.
Over the next two years, he amassed deeper skills and knowledge that helped him quickly climb the career ladder.
With an advanced degree and a higher salary, Chris was ready for a new challenge. He found him with his former employer.
This is how this year became a “boomerang employee” that he returned to the same company as before, but in a more important position than when he left.
“[La empresa] I was approached to return to a larger and larger role because of the experiences I was able to gain in the two years I was away,” he explains.
In the months after his return, Chris says he was able to work in the new role because of his institutional knowledge.
Instead of taking a step back returning to his old place of work advanced his career by allowing you to build on pre-existing relationships and networks in your company, while also drawing on experiences gained elsewhere.
“It’s been great: it’s like riding a bike, but bigger, cooler and with more gadgets,” he adds.
“At first I didn’t leave because I didn’t like my employer; rather, I saw the opportunity to level up faster and took it.”
While most people who quit a job close the door on that company forever, sometimes that’s not the case.
In fact, after the so-called great resignation, the number of people returning to their old workplaces is skyrocketing. Some companies are even encouraging it.
And while returning to a previous job may be motivated by regret, in cases like Chris’s it’s simply the logical step forward.
The rise of rehiring
Decades ago, companies bristled at the mere thought of rehiring former employees, especially with the entrenched stigma against changing jobs.
“Some companies had formal policies that prohibited rehiring,” explains JR Keller, an associate professor of human resource studies at Cornell University in New York.
“Hiring managers were concerned that bringing these employees back would suggest they were rewarding disloyaltywhich would encourage others to leave.”
The massive layoffs that followed the recession of the early 1980s shook up this mindset: Moving strategically around the job market for career advancement became more common, says Keller.
“As building careers across different organizations became the norm, even hiring managers themselves were changing jobs. So to pass over a great candidate simply because he had previously left for a better opportunity seemed counterintuitive.”
This change in mindset meant that rehiring steadily increased over the years. However, the big resignation triggered a tidal wave.
In the US, analysis of the employment histories of some 32 million LinkedIn members shows that these workers accounted for 4.3% of all hires last year, up from 2% in 2010.
The speed of this phenomenon is also increasing: the average American worker who returned took 17.3 months in 2021, compared to 21.8 months in 2010.
In the UK, 5% of all new hires in 2021 were to former employees, according to LinkedIn.
Keller says the uptick can be attributed in part to the recent high labor market turnover– Higher turnover generally means that more employees now want their old jobs back or are interested in returning to a former employer.
In a 2022 survey by recruitment firm Robert Half, 29% of UK business leaders reported an increase in the number of people applying to return to their old company.
“Someone may have left an organization and realized the grass isn’t greener, or was forced to resign for personal reasons stemming from the pandemic,” adds Keller.
“So they want to get back into the role they played well before, one they appreciate even more from having spent time away. And, with social media, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with a former boss.”
Nicola Thomas, talent manager at UK digital marketing agency iCrossing, says she keeps an active registry of previous employees as a recruiting source.
“Before the hiring crisis, boomerangs wouldn’t have been completely ruled out, but recruiters now have to think of new ways to broaden their search for talent. The perfect candidate may well be a former employee – you never know when someone wants to come back.”
Why do employees come back?
In some cases, workers can cut their way to the top simply by getting a promotion elsewhere and then returning to the company with a better position and salary than if they had stayed.
“If a former employee left with a positive image, spent time away, honed their skills and gained more experience elsewhere, then moving back to a more senior position becomes an important consideration,” says Thomas.
One of those workers is Cameron Lyall of iCrossing. He briefly left the company to head a department at a rival company, before returning in a more senior role.
“The work was not what I expected: I quickly realized that I did not have many opportunities to advance,” he explains.
“So, I contacted my former boss and asked if there was an opportunity to come back. I knew that new positions were opening up and I was lucky to return to a slightly higher position than when I left.”
In addition to career advancement, Lyall adds that coming back has brought him psychological benefits: He’s grateful to be back in a job he enjoys.
“I felt very energized. I went back to the same clients and accounts as before, but had a new perspective on how much I loved working at the company.”
From a recruiting perspective, hiring former employees in higher roles may make financial or logistical sense.
Keller’s 2021 research of more than 2,000 returning employees at a US healthcare organization showed that returning workers vastly outnumbered outside hires, with the benefits most pronounced within the first two years of a move. new hiring.
“The boomerangs can get going,” says Thomas. “They’ve worked for you before, they understand your culture and values, and they probably have existing relationships in the business as well.”
John Arnold, an assistant professor of management at the University of Missouri, says such hires make sense in roles that often require deep skills and specialized knowledge, such as those in technology.
“If a company is focused only on hiring good boomerangs, who come back and perform well and quickly, that’s a huge advantage, particularly in industries with a steep learning curve that require a lot of training and time.”
Although rehire may generally appear beneficial to both the employer and the returning worker, the transition is not always perfect.
For workers who have stayed with a company while their colleagues have left, an ex-employee immediately returning to a more senior position or higher salary could have a potential impact on morale.
“We don’t know how current employees will react to the boomerangs coming to their team, if there might be a sense of jealousy, denial of support or help,” says Keller.
Meanwhile, an employee who left to get away from organizational challenges might return to the same problems they initially left, says Arnold.
Their 2020 research indicated that returning workers often leave with the same issues.
“When these boomerangs left a second time, they often provided the same reason to leave as before,” he explains.
“Sometimes workers assume things will get better a second time, but that’s not necessarily the case.”
Returning workers are also more likely to receive little attention: Going back to a previous employer means there is more pressure to perform compared to new hires.
“Although boomerang employees tend to perform better, they are also more likely to be fired than outsiders; managers expect them to get to know the organization right away,” says Keller.
“While new hires can be given the benefit of the doubt, someone rehired who doesn’t live up to expectations is more likely to be fired.”
There may also be a limited window to return to employment. While hiring managers may welcome employees back after a few years away, Thomas says there’s also a cut-off point for a former employee to return.
“The more time that has passed since the candidate left, the more likely they are to hold on to older practices. Business may have moved on in that time; now it is an organization that they will no longer be able to adapt to.”
The long-term implications
Thomas says there has been a generational shift in organizations’ attitudes toward employee retention.
In turn, employers are increasingly leaving the door open for departing workers to one day return.
“People now want to experience different companies and climb the ladder as quickly as possible,” he says.
“In a world where many roles are highly technical with specific skill sets, there is a limit to the number of people that can be considered; ignoring former employees can mean missing out on a great opportunity.”
Keller says the potential awkwardness of returning is fading for both employer and employee.
“As we see more openness among companies to hire boomerangs, there will also be less stigma from a worker’s perspective to return to a former employer,” he adds.
Over time, Keller believes this type of employee will become a more important element in the labor market and in a more prominent hiring source.
“Now we realize that everyone is looking for better opportunities,” he says. “If a company wants the best workers, and they happen to be ex-employees, they should be open to it.”
How one leaves largely dictates the success of a comeback. Both Chris and Lyall, who are back, emphasize The importance of leaving a company on good terms.
“For you to be successful, it is important not to burn any bridge and maintain a strong, positive relationship” with a former employer, adds Chris. “Coming back can definitely mean a career advancement.”
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