When the Grass Isn’t Greener: How to Handle the Talent Boomerang

Whether it’s a quest for more money, flexibility, or purpose, millions of people left their employers searching for greener pastures.

But they didn’t always find them. Enter, the boomerang employee. The employee who quit, and now, wants to come back.

According to Anthony Klotz, associate progressor of management at Texas A&M University, “We’re going to see lots of [these] employees, who a year from now miss their jobs and decide their novel isn’t going as well as expected,” Klotz claimed.

A new job not living up to expectations is hardly an unprecedented dynamic. But now, that experience is happening in mass.

Employers and employees alike are exhausted. In the quest to go “back to normal,” picking up where everyone left off 18 months ago can seem like a win-win.  But is anyone really the same person that they were 18 months ago?

So, in the light of changed circumstances, how do we handle the boomerang?

If you’re considering being a boomerang employee. I.e. considering returning to former employer:

Think about the future, not the past.
Reevaluate your former employer through the lens of the future, because “going back” isn’t really a choice. Business has fundamentally shifted; The job you left likely looks different now. Through the lens of the future opportunities, challenges, and changes….is the role still appealing to you?  Or are you feeling a bit nostalgic over the past?

Recognize the tendency to remember the best parts.
Maybe it was a big sale, a product launch, or even an over-the-top holiday party. Those moments stick out to us because they are peak experiences. We remember them more fondly, and more vividly than all the minutiae in between. If you’re considering a boomerang move, push yourself to recall an average day. Glance back at your old calendar or your inbox, if you can, and ground your memory in the reality of day-to-day business.

Distinguish between a (temporary) emotional dip and a long-term problem.
Adam Grant recently shared a study that reports an initial dip in both satisfaction and energy upon starting a new job. That doesn’t mean the new job isn’t a good move, it just means, there are a lot of things to learn, people to meet, norms to get used to, and stuff to get done! As Grant says, transitions take their toll. The good news is satisfaction and energy often quickly return once acclimated.

If you’re considering hiring back a boomerang employee:

Dig up the exit interview 
Perhaps you’re familiar with this classic Albert Einstein quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This employee left for a reason. Even if that reason wasn’t formally documented in an exit interview, being mindful of the rationale can keep you from repeating the same cycle. If what initially prompted them to leave has not changed, the ultimate outcome likely won’t either. On the flip side, if those things have changed, like more learning and development opportunities or a bigger salary, it can be an indication that a boomerang hire could be successful

Consider a different role or new team
Old habits die hard. When someone is in a new role or working with a new team, it’s less tempting to fall back into ineffective routines or existing processes. Reexamining placement can help you capitalize on a previous employee’s skills and expertise while still bringing the energy of a new hire. It’s not a total fresh start, but it’s not a complete flashback either.

Be open about what has changed
Just like this employee has had a whirlwind of experiences since departing, so has your organization! Be upfront and transparent about what has changed. Whether it’s formal, like a new policy, or informal, like a renewed commitment to customers, articulate the journey the organization has taken since the employee left.

Nobody pressed pause on the movie. Both employees and companies have dramatically changed. Bringing back an employee (or going back to your previous job) doesn’t make things “back to normal.”

That doesn’t mean they can’t be great. Better, even. With clear communication, transparent conversations, and careful planning, a boomerang might be your best move yet.