Boomerang Employees: You Can’t Go Home Again? Or Welcome Home?

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Steve Jobs and LeBron James are perhaps two of the best-known examples of boomerang employees. Just like a boomerang leaves and returns to its place of origin, the same is true with a boomerang employee.

Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 and returned 12 years later to save the company from bankruptcy.

Basketball player, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami, only to return a few short years later.

When Jobs and James left their respective workplaces, they probably didn’t anticipate returning later. But they did. And this trend is becoming ever-more common.

You Can’t Go Home Again

In 1940, a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again was published by author Thomas Wolfe. The meaning behind the title was that if you try to return to a place from your past, it will have changed during your absence, and thus won’t feel as comfortable and homely as the way you remember it.

This phrase is applicable to jobs as well. If you leave a role or a company, and then return later on, more likely than not, you will feel a little out of place.

There may be a different boss. Or some different policies.

Even if everything appears the same on the surface, there will be a few adjustments that need to be made.

Some boomerang employees return to their previous employers almost immediately, sometimes within a matter of a months, because they realize their new role just isn’t for them.

In other instances, boomerang employees might spend several years at another organization before returning.

Some may work for several different companies before returning to a previous employer. This is particularly common in academia. But it also happens frequently in industry and business.

The Benefit of Returning to a Former Employer

If you’re considering returning to a former employer don’t hesitate to do so. People often toy with the idea, but are reluctant to reach out to a former employer to ask about available opportunities.

However, before becoming a boomerang employee, there are several things to consider.

Anytime you resign, it’s important to leave on good terms and maintain positive relationships with your colleagues. This is particularly applicable to boomerang employees.

Boomerang employees have a leg up on the competition when it comes to reapplying because of those established relationships. By contrast, unknown candidates are just that- unknown.

Unless a boomerang employee left the company 20 years ago, chances are there are still people at the organization who worked with that individual and can recall their reputation. Current employees can vouch for someone who left and wants to return.

The other benefit boomerang employees have is an HR profile. Hiring managers can examine past annual reviews to see what kind of value they brought to the company.

Research has shown boomerang employees tend to be very predictable in their behaviors and work habits. Previously punctual, reliable, team players will likely exhibit those characteristics again if they are rehired.

Another benefit of being a boomerang employee is that if they are returning within a year or two of resigning, they typically know the job. They might need less training. And the onboarding process is smoother and faster because they already know how things operate.

The Downside of Being a Boomerang Employee

While there are plenty of benefits to being a boomerang employee, don’t avoid the reality of the situation.

Before making any rushed decisions, honestly ask yourself, “Why did you resign in the first place?

Was it a bad boss? A toxic company culture? Were you overworked? Or underpaid? Or did you just want to try something different?

Try not to look at a possible return through rose-colored glasses. If anything, be even more critical than when you left last time.

What turned you off about the company before? Are those people still there? Do those problems still exist? If you didn’t like them the first time around, don’t make that mistake again.

If you left for an extended period of time or obtained further training, such as a Master’s degree, you might be able to come back with a promotion and/or pay raise. This could ruffle feathers among people who never left.

Or, you might be brought back as a new hire. You might not get the same benefits and seniority you enjoyed before. Ask yourself if you are ok with that. If you aren’t, then you might be the one that feels resentful.

Being a Successful Boomerang Employee

After weighing the options, if you decide to return to a former employer, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Don’t compare this role to your previous experience with the organisation. Boomerang employees have the tendency to idealise the way things were. Current employees will see you as new, so referring to the “good old days” and how things used to be done may alienate you.
  2. Approach this job as if you were a fresh hire. As a rookie, you made the effort to meet everyone and ingratiate yourself to them. Do the same in this situation.
  3. Boomerang employees are more likely to turn over again. And supervisors know this. You might be asked to make a firm commitment for a length of time, either by contract or handshake. Either way, some people will be apprehensive about whether you will be around long-term.
  4. You get one chance to be a boomerang employee. If you try to do it again in the future, your chances are slim to none that you will get an offer.
  5. Finally, even if you are trying to get a role with a former employer, you still have to go through the official channels, apply, and prove yourself to be the best candidate. Take the process seriously and put your best foot forward.