Why Would Workers Return to a Former Employer?

3 min read
u_eg4olrxbwc / Pixabay

Source: u_eg4olrxbwc / Pixabay

Post-Covid, there has been a lot of media attention to what is being called “the Great Resignation”—workers leaving their jobs to look for better or different employment options. This includes changing career paths, returning to school to ready oneself for a new career, and leaving steady employment to join the “gig economy.”

Surprisingly, however, a subset of workers who leave their employers have decided to return to their previous companies, in what is called “the Boomerang Effect.” What is going on?

The Boomerang Effect. This occurs when a worker chooses to leave their current employer and takes a job elsewhere or pursues a new career opportunity but then later decides to go back to the original employer. This has gotten attention in two ways: First, it seems odd that a dissatisfied employee would go back to a job and organization that they left for a supposedly better opportunity.

Second, it has been seen as a possible positive thing by employers because it reduces costs associated with onboarding the returning worker and, presumably, because that worker may have enhanced loyalty and bring a fresh perspective to the job.

But why, psychologically, would someone return to a former employer? Here are 3 reasons:

  1. The Familiarity Factor. It is a well-known psychological factor that people resist change. We like the familiar—the tried and true. Returning employees feel a sense of comfort in their old jobs and environment. One returning worker said his return to his old employer “felt returning to.” He relished getting back into “his old routine” and remarked about the many “familiar faces.”
  1. The Devil We Know. Many employees leave their careers because they believe that there are better opportunities elsewhere (the “grass is greener” effect). While it was the negatives associated with their old jobs that caused them to leave, many workers who switch jobs find that there are just as many negatives if not more, associated with the new job and employer that the “grass did not really seem greener,” they are happy to go back to the more familiar job and company.
  1. The Nostalgia Effect. In the same way that a worker might leave their job because of the negatives, once they experience new drawbacks in working at the new employer, they focus more on the positives associated with the prior position and employer. When faced with problems at the new employment, the worker thinks back to “the good old days.” As one worker said, “I thought that my old company culture was bad, but the culture at the new company was simply toxic. It made my old situation look pretty good.”

Before someone decides to change jobs or employers, it makes sense to do a comparative cost-benefit analysis. It is weighing the positives and negatives associated with the old and the prospective position.

Collecting valid information about the new possible position might help avoid an employee feeling like they “jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire” and prevent later falling prey to the Boomerang Effect.

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