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Return of the ex-employee

Would you dare ask for your job back after you'd left your company for a competitor?


SO it seems that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

An ex-colleague who had left for another firm texted me for advice one day.

"Viv, I think I made a mistake leaving. Do you think I can go back?"

For context, let me just sum up her situation.

She - let's call her Grace - was headhunted by a rival organisation for a similar position. On the spur of the moment, she jumped ship, leaving behind a great work environment where she had like-minded colleagues and bosses who had given her plenty of opportunities. But barely a month in, Grace realised that her new job was not turning out to be what she had envisioned it to be.

To quote Justin Bieber: Is it too late now to say sorry?

While there's no easy answer to her dilemma, I suppose she can take comfort that if she chooses to return, she will be part of an emerging trend known as the boomerang employees.

Like the name implies, boomerang workers are those who left their job - be it for a competitor or some other industry - and then decided to rejoin the company at a future date.

HR analysts say this phenomenon is gaining momentum in Singapore.

This concept may seem alien to some, but thanks to a tight labour market and changing norms, this is starting to make more sense to both employers and workers.

Instead of viewing it as taboo, it becomes a mutually-beneficial situation where both parties stand to gain. A recent survey by Workplace Trends found that nearly two-thirds of managers said that they are more accepting of hiring back former colleagues as compared to before.

The study cites familiarity, easier training, and knowledge of employer's expectations as benefits for both boomerang workers and organisations.

Deon Senturk, director, Business Strategy and Development at Talent Plus explained that switching jobs was viewed as an act of disloyalty in the past. But now, employers better understand that people leave for a variety of reasons.

"A company may not have the right compensation package or desired growth opportunity for an employee at that point in time. The younger generation may seek out other adventures in life such as a sabbatical, or return to study, take a year off for mission work and would leave their current job to pursue those opportunities."

In other words, it is not so much a question of loyalty anymore, but timing.

This shift in mindset is actually more pragmatic than anything else.

Jacqueline Gwee, founder and director of aAdvantage Consulting Group says that companies now are all in a war for talent. "With the tightening of the foreign manpower supply, employers need to have a different mental model on how they see employees who resigned."

She points out that these days, progressive companies no longer close the door on employees who leave. In fact, it's quite the opposite. These illustrious "alumni" are given star treatment and companies are pulling out all the stops to engage them.

This serves two functions; not only do these people become unofficial ambassadors who boost the organisation's brand, they are also a pool of talent the company can tap again once a suitable opportunity arises. And when they do return, Ms Gwee adds that boomerang employees can be a "shot in the arm" for morale.

"When current employees see that an employee has returned, it most likely will drive them to stay even longer in the company and help boost retention… this might trigger the thought that the grass isn't greener on the other side."

While it seems that boomerang employees can have their cake and eat it too, in some circumstances, they might have to down some humble pie first. For people such as my ex-colleague Grace, they will have to ask their previous bosses if they can have their old jobs back. And following that, they will have to face their previous team again who probably threw them a farewell bash. The awkwardness is real. But pride aside, Mrs Gwee says that there are some other considerations that potential boomerang workers should ask themselves before diving back in.

First, what prompted your initial departure and have the issues been addressed?

Secondly, do your personal values fit in with the company's value system and corporate culture?

And lastly, what skills and knowledge will you be able to bring to the company and role upon re-entry?

A good relationship with your previous manager and good work performance are a given, but there are other issues that are not so easily resolved. It is easy to let nostalgia blind you into seeing your previous job with rose-tinted glasses, so make sure you know what you are in for before you reunite with your ex.

Says Ms Senturk: "The boomerang employee should initiate candid communication and clarify certain expectations with the employer before returning… If expectations are clearly defined the second time round, there's a greater chance that the employee will return to a job, organisation, team and culture they are happy with and could stay for a long time."

Boomerang workers should not worry about being penalised as the arrangement is supposed to be win-win. If you are expected to get a paycut for the same role, that's a sure sign that you are better off elsewhere.

In fact, in certain cases, the boomerang employee even gets a promotion faster than if the person had chosen to remain due to valuable experience gained elsewhere. Regardless, even if you have no intention to return at present, it is always good practice to remain on good terms with your previous employers. In today's context where social networks are everything, staying connected either through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook is a good way to keep in touch and stay up to speed on the latest news.

That way, if an opportunity does present itself, it would be easier to reach out to your previous manager to express interest to return as the bridge is still there.

Well, to quote a certain pop star again, never say never. Keep the door open and who knows what possibilities might come round in the future?

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