IT Employment

Your ex-employer wants you back!

Thousands of workers who left established companies to join dot coms only a year or two ago have reentered the job market. In this week's Tech Watch column, Bob Weinstein discusses why many of these employees are "boomeranging" back to their former jobs.

Whoever heard of leaving a company and then returning a couple of years later?

“Ridiculous!” you snarl.

Well, it’s happening every day as throngs of terminated and disillusioned dot commers are returning to their former employers. And, their old bosses are glad to have them back.

The dot com shakeout that started a few months ago not only shut down dozens of high-profile Web sites, but also hurled thousands of workers back into the job market. Many of these disillusioned workers are pocketing their pride and going back to work for their former employers.

Returning to a former employer is not only happening among dot com workers, but in all industries. The trend is appropriately dubbed “boomeranging.”

Joyce Gioia, a principal at the Herman Group and Stability Institute, a Greensboro, NC, company that monitors work trends, says she is seeing a higher percentage of boomeranging among IT companies.

Sheryl Glubok, a technology specialist at Berkeley, CA, executive search firm The Pacific Firm, Inc. agrees. When the dot com craze took off, thousands of workers left secure jobs for the prospect of excitement, fast career advancement, and, of course, the promise that they’d become filthy rich.

But like the dreams of the throngs who migrated to California during the Depression in search of gold and found hardship and poverty instead, the majority of dot-com dreams were shattered. Not only didn’t workers become instant millionaires, they also encountered grueling hours, incompetent management, stressful working conditions, and broken promises.

As Gioia and her partner Roger Herman wrote in their online newsletter Trend Alert: “Workers are discovering that the grass they thought was greener is, in fact, crabgrass.”

Sometimes this discovery comes quickly; often it takes months or years to discover things aren’t working out at the new job. Many disillusioned workers wish they could turn the clock back and return to their previous employer, Herman observes. “Some are embarrassed and move on to something else,” he said. “But, more workers are returning to their previous employers, anxious to pick up where they left off.”

Why are employers taking back workers who left? Answer: They need them. Also, if the person was an excellent worker, then he or she has instant credibility. The company knows exactly what it’s getting.

Glubok says virtually all the big technology firms she works with are rehiring valued workers. “There is a greater understanding of human nature now,” she said. “Sympathetic employers understand that money and power can be seductive lures.”

A more mature workplace is also a contributing factor in the boomerang trend, observes Jay Schwartz, president of the Richmond, VA-based executive search firm The Richmond Group, USA/MRI.

“Companies are doing things they never did before to recruit talented workers,” he said. “Small and medium-sized companies, in particular, no longer take things as personally as they did in the past.”

Overall, companies are more creative. “We’re seeing companies aggressively pursuing workers who have left,” Schwartz adds. “And the time period in which it occurs is often only months after they left.”

The concept of boomeranging back to a secure nest sounds great, but is it worth returning to the company you left? No matter how much money they’re offering, don’t lose sight of the reasons you left, Schwartz advises. Was it just more money and power or did you leave because of an obnoxious boss, cutthroat coworkers, or a stifling corporate culture?

Before you move back to your old office, find out what working conditions are like now. “If it was an amicable parting, there is no reason why you can’t return to an even better job,” Schwartz said.

Regardless of whether you actually return to a company you left, the idea is to always be in a position where you can return. Schwartz offers some valuable strategies for successful boomeranging:
  • Never burn bridges when leaving a company. They’ll always remember how you behaved at the end and it will color their impression of the job you did.
  • Keep in touch while you are away.
  • Have a clear sense of what you are bringing back to the party. Returning at a higher level will depend on what skill and experience you have acquired while away.
  • Call someone you respect at the company and explain your situation. Let him or her act as your champion with management.
Are you ready to trade risk for stability? Do you plan on going back to your old job? If so, send us an e-mail or post your comments. We’ll compile them in an article later.
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