The Boomerang Boom: how to go back to your former employer
May 12, 2022 - updated May 12, 2022
The Great Resignation brought a mass exodus of employees leaving their pre-COVID jobs in search of a better one; the main reasons — many workers felt confident they could find better work, pay, benefits and culture elsewhere. But today, as the big quit continues into its second spring, we’re seeing another trend emerging: namely the rise of the boomerang employee.
A boomerang hire, as you might have guessed, is a worker who circles back to a former employer. A prominent example: one of the all-time most famous members of the boomerang tribe is Steve Jobs, who left Apple in 1985 only to return 11 years later.
As employers no longer expect lifetime employees, attitudes have been changing regarding repeat hires. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of an employee in 2020 was 4.1 years — down from 5.5 years in 2014. According to research conducted by LinkedIn using data from their site, boomerang workers have increased and now account for 4.5% of new hires, as opposed to 3.9% at the same time in 2019.
While it might feel strange to consider an old position as your best option going forward, there is immense value in realizing where you fit best and can make the most out of your talents and passions. We have compiled some tips to help you with ‘the Great Return.’
Boomerang hires leave for a variety of reasons. Jessica Kaplin, a senior associate recruiter at SwingSearch and a boomerang herself, left her job after being asked to relocate. “At the time, Swing was a smaller company and really wanted to build the culture,” she said. “They had just opened a super cute office and wanted me to relocate to San Francisco, but I wasn’t ready to leave San Diego. So we parted ways on good terms.”
The opposite happened to Laure Baron, assistant director of finance at the Four Seasons. “I started working at the Four Seasons [French] Polynesia back in 2008 and after two years, I asked for a transfer within the company,” Baron said. “We were right in the middle of an economic crisis, so there was no position that suited me. I left the company but I didn’t really want to. The company couldn’t offer any position at that time.”
Kaplin worked in another company for four years, while Baron moved to another hotel chain where she stayed for two years. Each woman decided to become a boomerang after the opportunity to return to their former companies arose.
For careers expert John Lees, author of Get Ahead in Your New Job, career advancement and culture fit should serve as the guiding force behind any decision to return to one’s former company. “The positive motivation would be realizing that, once you’ve had some external experience, your original organization is a good place to be working because it puts you back on the career ladder. Or it gives you learning opportunities or that people are great to work with,” he said. “If it doesn’t advance your career when you go back to where you were before, then it’s not very helpful.”
The company’s growth and management, coupled with the switch to remote work, factored heavily in Kaplin’s decision to return. “Swing recruited me back because they are busier than ever! And now the whole team works remotely, so it makes sense for me again,” said Kaplin. “Also, the leadership and founders of Swing are some of the most amazing women to work for: smart, passionate, supportive, beautiful moms!”
A career boost lured Baron back to Bora Bora in the South Pacific. “My former boss called me and asked if I was interested in taking the assistant director of finance position,” she said. “I always had in mind to go back to the Four Seasons, especially Bora Bora because I have special relationships with the people working there.”
For an employee facing the possibility of becoming a boomerang, knowing how to manage “the return” makes for a smooth transition that will allow you to hit the ground running.
1. Meet and greet
Organizing a social call with your soon-to-be boss or colleagues before your official first day back can help you to familiarize yourself with the company’s current structure and your new role. Connecting with future colleagues can be easier for a boomerang than a new hire. “I had two lunches with my former boss to discuss how the hotel is working now [and], the spirit of the team,” said Baron. “Talking to my boss was definitely useful because I knew what was expected of me.”
Lees advises boomerangs to take the initiative to reach out and arrange one’s own “induction” process. “As [you are] an ex-employee, everyone’s going to assume that you don’t need any induction, but there will be things that have changed, particularly technology [and], particularly around processes,” he said. “So it’s good also to share that you’re a fast learner and that you’re interested in getting up to date.”
Abde Mahmoudi, another boomerang working in the hospitality industry, saw these social moments as an opportunity to reconnect and to confirm that he had made the right choice. “I organized drinks with some of my colleagues to understand the team dynamics, what my role was, and who my boss will be,” he said. “The meetings helped me to determine if the new role was what I was looking for. They helped me to feel confident about my return.” He credits his professional network with playing a vital role in his boomerang journey. “It’s a big part of my development. I recommend taking care of your network,” he said. “Having a network helped me adapt and plan for my return.”
2. Set expectations
A boomerang is likely to assume a new role that requires managing a team who were once peers and maybe even friends. HR professional Maria San Pedro stresses the importance of communicating and setting expectations from day one. “There should be agreements on the boundaries of work and friendship in order for you to deliver as a manager and for your team to deliver what is expected of them,” she said. “This lets the staff know where you draw the line between being their manager and their friend.”
Baron’s return reunited her with her colleagues, who were also friends, but the dynamics had changed. “It’s more a matter of communication. I had to make sure that even though I was friends with some of them, I was now their manager and that tasks were carried out,” she said. “At the same time, the adjustments went smoothly because my history with them meant that I didn’t have to impose my authority.”
Or it could be the exact opposite. As a boomerang, you may return to an organization with all new colleagues who have no idea about your history with the company. “They could even have the assumption that your skill set is out of date [or] that your knowledge is out of date,” Lees said. “The underlying principle here is that you start the job as if it’s a new job. That means establishing relationships, showing you can add value, showing them you can learn quickly and [can] ask good questions.”
3. Stick to a short script
“You’re back!” A boomerang hire is likely to hear those words often as they bump into old colleagues in the early days back with the company. This is often followed by: “What brings you back?”
Lees advises boomerangs to come up with a good, uncomplicated response. “You’ll probably be asked [that question] a hundred times, and it’s good to have a short answer,” he said. “So [you can say] ‘I chose to get out of the organization to get this experience and I’ve chosen to come back because I want this experience, and that’s it. It’s a very simple narrative. What underlies the narrative is that you’re the one doing the choosing. If you give a short positive answer, they won’t get any further. They’ll leave it alone.”
4. What’s old is new again
Boomerangs must not take things for granted when they return. Time has passed, and people have come and gone. Processes have changed in all probability. It may be their ‘old’ company, but it’s also a golden opportunity to grow and establish new ties. That’s what Kaplin found on returning to SwingSearch.
“There are so many new systems in play now that I had to learn from scratch,” Kaplin said. “But the general concept of recruiting is the same, and I was able to hit the ground running with that.”
Lees has this advice for boomerangs: “Think of it as a new start with new people and new contacts,” he said. “I would recommend these people do pretty much all the same things anybody would do starting a new role in a new organization. You find out what other people’s biggest headaches and problems are––and you just get up to speed really quickly.”
While the Great Resignation may have already reached its peak, workers across the country will no doubt continue in their quest for an improved worklife. Today, as the pandemic has ushered in a new mode of thinking about our careers and lives at large, we’re increasingly realizing that the best way forward is sometimes to walk backwards.
Edited on May 12, 2022
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