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How the Great Resignation could turn into the Great Employee Return

Key Points
  • A recent survey of more than 15,000 job seekers by job-search platform Joblist shows that 26% of workers who quit regret their decision.
  • The No. 1 reason is that finding a new job has been more difficult than they expected, a surprise given how robust the job market is.
  • Before bringing a former employee back into the fold, be sure to understand why they left in the first place.
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Are fears of a recession about to usher in an era of the Great Employee Return?

Despite signs of a slowdown and waves of layoffs coming out of the tech sector, the job picture is still robust. More than a half million new jobs were created just last month.

But not everyone is feeling the love. A recent survey of more than 15,000 job seekers by job-search platform Joblist shows that 26% of workers who quit regret their decision. Among the reasons why:

  • Finding a new job has been more difficult than expected (40%)
  • They miss their former colleagues (22%)
  • The new job is not what they hoped for (17%)
  • Their former job was better than they realized (16%)
  • There's bad culture and management at their new company (9%)

Employees learning that the grass isn't always greener is not a new discovery, of course. But in the struggle to attract and retain talent in such a tight market, there is some good news here for human resources executives who could start to see a stream of familiar names on resumes. 

For starters, so-called boomerang employees know the culture, understand how things get done, and can pretty much hit the ground running, said Shayla Thurlow, vice president of people and talent acquisition at job search platform The Muse.

"They're not a wildcard," she said. "They're a known entity."

They can also bring back to the company new, fresh ways of approaching challenges. Jennifer Young, executive vice president of human resources for TD Bank, said individuals who take time apart from their company to gain perspective and explore other options "can return with a renewed appreciation for an organization and sense of purpose in their roles."

Making sure a former employee is still a fit

Even so, bringing back a former employee requires a deep understanding of why they left in the first place.

"Leaving because another company offered them a lot more money is different than if they left because they didn't get along with their manager," she said. Make sure you're both clear on the reasons why they want to return and establish clear expectations of the role, salary, and if they truly believe they'll be happy at the company this time around, she said.

Sometimes, Thurlow said, employees want to return because they yearn for something comfortable and familiar. But it could also be because the new job was oversold, there was bad onboarding, or they had trouble assimilating into a new environment or culture. "You want to understand why they left that new company so that if they do want to return to your organization you can actually meet their needs," she said.

One thing Thurlow warns hiring managers to look out for is employees coming back because they want to kill time while they look for their next role.

"If someone didn't have a good onboarding experience in their new firm, but they truly weren't happy in your organization, it could be that they're just looking to come back to collect a paycheck and do the bare minimum in a job they're already familiar with," she said. "You don't want to set yourself up for those experiences because they can be corrosive to the culture and the team on which that individual works."

The best way to avoid such a scenario is to establish consistent communication between leaders and direct reports from the beginning. "As a leader, you want to know about their job satisfaction and engagement, about whether the job is fulfilling and challenging to them and where things can improve," she said. That helps a hiring manager know that if a person does want to come back, "you can go through all the items that will tell you if this next time is going to be a good fit for them and the company."

And finally, don't be shy about reaching out to former employees yourself. The Joblist survey found that 23% of respondents said their previous employer reached out to them about coming back after they quit.

"If you're keeping in touch with former employees, following their career progress and see a new opportunity that appears relevant to what they're currently looking for it's worth reaching out and having a conversation," Young said.

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