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Career Boomerangs Are Rising, New Survey Shows — Here’s How to Know if You Should Go Back to an Old Job

By Eliza Haverstock

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

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Roughly 40% of Great Resignation participants wish they had never left their old gigs, per new data from HR consultancy UKG. If you feel similarly, here’s what to consider before going back.

Would you go back to an old job? (Source: Chris Collins/Getty Images)
Would you go back to an old job? (Source: Chris Collins/Getty Images)

As the Great Resignation continues to shape the labor market, some participants are finding that the grass isn’t always greener.

A record 47 million American workers quit their jobs last year for promises of better pay, management and working conditions, but roughly 40% of Great Resignation participants feel they were better off at their old gigs, new data shows.

The findings, from a global survey of nearly 2,000 employees who quit their job during the pandemic (and 1,850 managers) released this week by human resources consultancy Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), underline the difficulties that can accompany a job change. If you feel similarly, there’s still hope. Nearly 20% pandemic quitters have already boomeranged back, and 65% of managers say they would be open to hiring back top and even moderate performers, according to Massachusetts-based UKG, which employs more than 12,000 people across 165 countries.

But before taking any drastic measures (like calling up your old boss), make sure you’re not overreacting to the uncertainty that can accompany change. Try to spend at least six months in a new role before deciding to leave, Prerika Agarwal, a career coach based in the Washington, D.C. area, told The Org.

“I always use the analogy of dating,” said Agarwal. “If your relationship ended and you decided it didn't work, and then you decide to get back together, you do still have all of those old stories and baggage coming back with you the second time around. Is it likely to be successful the second time around?”

Jennifer Landis-Santos, a career coach who’s also based near D.C., said she hasn’t seen many clients looking to boomerang back to an old workplace - more often, she meets with people searching for careers that feel more meaningful. But if a boomerang is on the table, Landis-Santos suggests professionals keep an eye on the future.

“It’s easy to look back and think, ‘oh, I should've done this or shouldn't have done that,’ and second guess yourself,” Landis-Santos told The Org. “Even though it is a scary time, you should invest your energy into getting clear about what you want to do next, instead of looking backwards.”

How to return to a previous workplace

A worker set on heading back to their old office should make the first move by contacting their former manager, said Chris Mullen, the executive director of UKG’s Workforce Institute.

“Reach out on email, phone, text, LinkedIn or however you are comfortable with a simple request to catch up. You shouldn’t go in asking to ‘get your old job back,’ because that could be a turn-off for your former manager who had to move on,” Mullen told The Org. “Treat it like you would any other networking meeting, and then turn the conversation to being unhappy in your new role and thinking you made a mistake in leaving.”

It may not be possible to boomerang back to your same position right away if the job has already been filled, but Mullen added that “being proactive about reconnecting can open up other opportunities to come back in the future.”

Career coach Agarwal emphasized that considering different roles at a previous employer is another option: “If you work for a really large company, you might have a really different experience on a different team, or in a different area of the business.”

When preparing to physically (or virtually) return to a previous office, be prepared for changes even in a familiar space. Old coworkers and bosses might not treat you exactly the same as they did before. Honesty is the best route when re-integrating to the workplace, according to Landis-Santos.

Boomerang employees should “be open and curious about their coworkers, be direct about why they left and how they appreciate the opportunity to come back,” she said.

And whether you stay put, boomerang back or try out a different industry altogether, remember to keep work in perspective.

“I think it's helpful to zoom out and try to look at the bigger picture of your life and how work is one component of it,” said Landis-Santos. “We have this myth that we have to find a dream job, but really, we work to live, we don't live to work, and in a lot of ways it’s a healthier perspective to think of our lives as bigger than our work, and to think of our job as a vehicle to get to who we want to be as people.”

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