The great resignation and the great reshuffle during the pandemic, tied in some cases to childcare and homeschooling and in others to reevaluation of priorities, appears to be driving a new trend: boomerang employees. Workers are returning to their former employer more often than in the past and often after a shorter time away.
According to LinkedIn data, boomerang employees accounted for “4.3% of all job switches” in 2021, up from under 2% in 2010. The average time away was 17.3 months in 2021, compared to 21.8 months in 2010.
For Chad Stripling, director of data science for the interaction innovation team at 84.51°, a data science and analytics firm and media company in Cincinnati, Ohio, four years was long enough to be away from his former employer. Stripling worked at 84.51° as an intern and then as a lead data scientist for about five years. He left the company in 2018, then returned in 2022.
“I left to manage a pricing team at a regional grocery company and then managed a team for a clothing retailer,” Stripling says. “I gained new experience and skills, but I was eager to return to 84.51°.”
What causes boomerang employees?
The “grass is always greener on the other side” attitude led many people to experiment with new companies or to be lured away with higher pay because of the ongoing labor shortage. In a 2022 survey by payroll firm UKG, “Four out of 10 people (43%) who quit their jobs during the pandemic now admit they were actually better off at their old job.”
“There’s always something that bothers you about a job, even if you’re self-employed,” says Mike Ashie, a leadership and management consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “After the great resignation there was a hiring frenzy and people were paying top dollar to attract employees. But in hindsight, many people who left their companies realized they didn’t know what they were getting into.”
Stripling, like other boomerang employees, found plenty of reasons to return to 84.51°.
“The culture at 84.51° is extremely collaborative,” Stripling says. “The leadership is very transparent about their objectives and provides feedback on how their initiatives are performing. They also have a great attitude about work-life balance. I’m extremely dedicated to my career, but I also appreciate that they advocate for taking time off and for remote work.”
Instability in the workforce
While Stripling left his company prior to the pandemic, a record of over 47 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, according to the Labor Department.
As with many other trends, the Covid pandemic accelerated what was already beginning to happen, says Glenn Llopis, president and CEO of the Glenn Llopis Group (GLLG), a consulting firm based in Holly Springs, North Carolina.
“Beginning around 2015, employees started to tell employers that they were leaving their jobs because of the leadership or because they didn’t believe in what the organization stood for,” says Llopis. “Employers always feel like they have the power, but now employees are tired of not being treated as individuals. More people realize that work is what they do, not who they are.”
Should you leave your job in the first place?
Stripling left his company initially to gain new experience and relocate, not because of unhappiness. But he’s very aware through his career and interactions with other companies about what makes an organization a good or bad place to work.
“I appreciate the emphasis on work-life balance and the investments in innovative technology,” Stripling says. “At 84.51°, there’s a lot of sharing throughout the company and in small groups that spur career advancement and make us feel supported.”
While Stripling hasn’t experienced it himself, most everyone he knows has suffered at some point from not having the tools or data to make the right decisions. To him, that’s a sign of a bad organization.
“Companies with a good culture are ones that are favorable to what employees are looking for,” says Llopis. “We’re in the age of personalization. Employees want to explore what they can do in their jobs for themselves and evolve.”
Ashie suggests taking a hard look at the pros and cons before leaving a job.
“You know when you’re in a toxic environment and that it’s time to leave if your job is draining the life out of you,” Ashie says. “But if you have a good relationship with your colleagues and a decent relationship with your boss, then you should look carefully at the environment you’re in to see if you can make adjustments rather than leave.”
If you go home smiling and enjoy your work, it may not be worth it to move to a different company even for higher pay.
“It shouldn’t be just a roll of the dice, which is why we’re seeing boomerang employees more often these days,” Ashie says.
Red flags among new opportunities
Before making a job change and potentially becoming a boomerang employee, it’s smart to analyze a job posting and company. Use the interview stage to investigate the company’s values.
1. Inquire about the specifics of the job.
“Sometimes job postings can be ambiguous, so it’s important to ask who you’ll be working with,” Stripling says. “In data science, for example, you can be working with engineers, business leaders or external clients, each of which changes the job.
“Ask about what the expectations are for you and about the history of the role, such as whether it’s a new position or being backfilled,” he adds.
Llopis recommends asking whether the metrics for success have already been established or if the employee has some freedom and input into how they meet the desired outcomes of a job.
2. Take a look at the open positions on the company’s site.
“If the company posts a lot of positions, that could be an indication of high turnover and there’s nothing good about that,” Ashie says. “If they seem to be urgently in need of employees, that’s another red flag that people are leaving without giving much notice, which means there’s a lack of mutual respect.”
3. Ask about advancement opportunities to avoid becoming a boomerang employee.
It’s important to find out if there’s room for growth in the new company or training and education that can help you advance your career, Ashie says.
4. Learn about the company culture.
“If someone says, ‘We’re like a family here,’ that’s a red flag,” Ashie says. “That usually means you can’t get rid of someone even if the budget isn’t there or they’re not doing a great job.”
Ashie recommends paying attention to companies when they lay off large numbers of people. How the company handled it can be an indication of how they treat all employees.
How to be a successful boomerang employee
Not every employer is open to welcoming back former employees with open arms, Llopis says. So, how can you set yourself up to potentially become a boomerang employee?
1. Leave on good terms.
“Give a decent notice—at least two weeks—out of respect for your employer,” Ashie says. “If you’ve left your job in a decent way, it’s easier to go back.”
2. Maintain your relationships with every former employer.
It is relatively simple through LinkedIn and other social media platforms. “It’s much easier to ask for a job if you’ve been in touch periodically with former colleagues, managers and the business owner,” Ashie says. “This is a lot harder if you didn’t build strong relationships while you were there.”
3. Be transparent about why you want to return as a boomerang employee.
“The employer will want to know why you left them and what’s bringing you back,” Llopis says. “You need to have a legitimate reason to return, not just that this is an interim position because you need a paycheck while you look for the next position.”
While it’s not a great idea to jump from one company to another annually, Stripling believes a boomerang can be good for your resume and reputation.
“A diversified candidate who’s expanded their experience and is bringing it back to their previous employer can add value,” he says.
Being (and hiring) a boomerang employee can be a positive experience for both sides, provided each takes a careful look at how they can fit back together in a more productive way.
Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock