| Sep 29, 2022

Workers Are Boomeranging Back to Old Jobs: Will They Be Happy?

Leaving the door open for workers to return can offer performance and satisfaction advantages to both employer and employee. For many, second time around may prove to be a charm.

Even as the pandemic proved to be a time to expect the unexpected, one of its most curious features was the way employees swapped jobs like kids trading lunch at recess. People reevaluated priorities and preferences, saw that there were other options aside from what they had been doing, and got pickier about what they would accept. 

But as the BBC reports, one out of every five Americans who ditched their employer in the past two years said they had regrets about the decision. Likely due to both a lack of due diligence on the part of the employees and poor accuracy in job advertisements, only 26 percent said they liked their new position enough to stick around, and a third were already on the prowl for another job. 

As part of this reshuffling, many workers who had tried something new are choosing to do a 180-degree turn and return to their previous employers. If happiness is the goal, these people might just win out. 

What Might Bring Boomerang Workers Joy

In some instances, a returning employee might count themselves lucky to get hired back without losing any of the authority or compensation they originally enjoyed. For others, leaving meant the opportunity to learn and acquire skills. That growth adds to their value and enables them to make a strong case for better benefits or job duties. Workers can also have fresh perspectives from their time away. What irked them can become less of a thorn in their side, and projects can become more engaging. 

Compensation and tasks are only part of the picture, however. Relationships matter, too. The fact that a worker has returned with additional strengths doesn’t always fix existing issues in an organization, and boomerang workers can leave again over the same issues that led them to find the door the first time. 

Sometimes the shift in perspectives and skills changes the worker’s relationships in positive ways. The employer might better realize all of the advantages that the rehired worker brings to the table, and the worker can be thankful to be back with people they now understand share their core values. 

All of these points tie to productivity. A new tool box, combined with the fact that the boomerang worker already knows the ins-and-outs of the business, typically means that they outperform external hires. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal comparing 2,053 boomerangs and 10,858 new hires over eight years in a healthcare company revealed that the performance advantage was larger in positions where people had to coordinate more internally.


Happiness Proves To Be Within Reach

It was also larger in situations where there was more internal resistance to outside workers coming in. The researchers theorized that the boomerangs did better because they were better able to communicate and navigate through the organization. 

In line with this thinking, a “Should You Rehire an Employee study from Skynova found that 82% of respondents felt that knowing the quality of the employee’s work was a major benefit, while 72% identified compatibility with the team as being helpful. Whatever the reason behind the productivity jump, boomerangs who see a higher productivity rate can take a legitimate sense of pride in their increased accomplishments.

For all those reasons, rehired workers seem to be happy once they come back. The Skynova study found that just 8% of boomerang employees said their job satisfaction was slightly or much lower after returning. While 37% said their satisfaction was about the same, more than half (55%) said they were slightly or much more satisfied. Managers seem willing to take workers back, too, with over a third saying they would rehire a former employee.

Allow Returning Workers to Guide Your Approach

Given that data, it is advantageous for employers not to burn any bridges with workers who leave. Allowing amicable splits, mentoring, and focusing on an inclusive culture leaves the door open for employees to come back later with more that can help their business. 

One business that has been successful at keeping return pathways open for workers is technology and data science company System1, which has worked hard to foster a sense of community within its team. 

“When I handed in my resignation, what I remember the most was how many people reached out to me to see what I needed to stay,” says content strategist Elise Marion, who left the company in 2021 only to come back.

“Everyone said that if I ever wanted to come back to System1 one day, I would always be welcome. Those sentiments really stayed with me until the opportunity came.”

George Huang, marketing data analytics manager, agrees that the culture of the company influenced his decision to return after three years away. “I remember being genuinely excited to go to work every day because of just how much fun it was to be around such a smart and fun bunch of people,” he says.

With culture just one of the reasons workers come back, businesses don’t need to be shy about investigating what prompted them to return. The goal is to use the top trends to help guide future hiring and operational choices: If they say compensation brought them back, it makes sense not to cut back pay. If they say your business innovates like none other, you know you are doing things right with your research and development efforts.

As Stigma Fades, Keep the Best Talent

Every hire in your company deserves careful consideration. But boomeranging has become more popular over time, and as a result, the idea that returning workers might be flaky or disloyal is losing ground. Businesses increasingly understand that people are holding more and more jobs throughout their careers. 

So if you have positions to fill in your business, don’t discount people who have worked for you in the past. Businesses might be able to tap their new energy to be more innovative, authentic, and collaborative. When things get tough in the company, you can also take advantage of their strong rapport to get over hurdles.

But be prepared: Boomerang employees are ready to self-advocate as the nature of work shifts. As Jeff Cochran of Shapiro Negotiations Institute says, they know exactly what conditions are like, which empowers them to be shrewd negotiators. The more you show that you are willing to hear boomerang workers out, the more they will come back to fight in your corner.

Wanda Thibodeaux

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer, editor, and podcast host based in Eagan, MN. view profile


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