How to decide if returning to a former employer is the right choice


contrary to Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, most people don’t go back to their exes unless they are teenagers. But what about returning to an ex-employer? Intuitively, this seems like a bad idea. After all, corporate cultures take a long time to change (two to five years on average), so if you feel the urge to quit a job or get fired, why would you want to come back?

Things are a bit more complicated than that.

First, people often quit their jobs based on other opportunities that arise, and those opportunities can end up being a lot less attractive than they appear.

Second, it takes time to figure out what you really want in your career. In fact, as we mature and evolve not only as professionals but also as humans, we refine our understanding of what really matters to us, what is important, and what we really want to prioritize. in life. As a common example, consider someone who quits their job because they are tempted by a higher salary, only to find that the extra salary does not justify doing a more boring job, working more hours, or being part of the job. of a company that is in conflict with their core values. Scientific research tells us that this is more common than you might think, not least because there is only a tiny correlation between salary and job satisfaction (only 2% overlap between them according to meta-analyzes).

Third, career returns often involve a former employer, especially if you were wrong to leave in the first place.

People are often tempted into new careers for the wrong reasons. Besides salary, there is a great marketing machine that positions jobs and organizations as utopias for spiritual fulfillment, personality growth, and astronomical career success. Recruitment has been co-opted in part by marketing, and it has never been easier for brands to maintain their external image, reputation and cultures to appeal to smart and talented people. But you shouldn’t trust everything you hear about businesses, especially if it’s from them.

Talks a “Great resignation”Are also likely to create a FOMO (fear of missing out) in those who decide to stick with their current employers. Humans learn by imitation, and we are social animals at heart. Just as our salary is evaluated asymmetrically (people would rather have a 5% raise if their coworkers get 0% rather than 20% if their coworkers get 30%), our career self-reviews are largely based on what we do. think of others’ level of success. So when people tell you that you shouldn’t be staying with your employer for too long, you immediately worry. And when you hear that so many people have allegedly found a sense of belonging, a vocation or a purpose in their work, you start to wonder if there is something wrong with you.

However, a proper assessment of what most people actually think of the job paints a rather different, less rosy picture. For example, data on employee engagement reports that 3 out of 10 employees are engaged at work, and scientific research shows that engagement is only 9% of the variability between people’s performance (and half of it depends on people’s personalities rather than how they’re treated at work). Likewise, most people are fed up with their bosses, not least because they are poorly managed, largely because organizations tend to appoint managers on the basis of confidence rather than competence, and politics rather than performance.

While skilled knowledge workers can boast of a sense of belonging, the vast majority of employees see work in the same vein as most humans throughout the history of our evolution: as a chore, a burden. burden or vehicle of survival. For every Michelangelo or Elon Musk there are still millions of worker bees, but in modern times we have discovered the usefulness of brainwashing them with a purpose so that they become spiritual workaholics. When companies make their culture a worship, they attract possessed employees who are able to get into their jobs with 100% commitment even if they are overworked and underpaid. It may sound cynical, but it is a great management tactic, compared, for example, to managing rational and balanced employees who understand that there is more to life than work, and that there is no work. is a job at end of the day.

It’s helpful to look at some of the real data on people’s career mistakes, regrets, and successful reinventions, as it provides useful lessons for anyone considering the pros and cons of returning to their former employer.

Acquired skills

Although values, personality, and abilities don’t change much throughout our lifetimes, the job market changes significantly throughout people’s careers, as do the skills you can acquire and develop. One of the best ways to develop new skills is on-the-job learning, and if your former employer didn’t offer you many opportunities to expand your skills, they might be interested in reuniting with you after you learn key new skills elsewhere. Consider someone learning new digital or analytical skills with a new business, in order to become a key talent asset for their former employer. In my own academic career, I have experienced this myself: the university where I obtained my doctorate made me go elsewhere to gain teaching experience before I could hire myself as a teacher. because there were no vacancies for juniors.

Change of direction

Whether or not you like your job largely depends on your boss, with research suggesting that 30% of employee engagement and performance can be attributed to their immediate supervisor. As the saying goes, people join companies but leave their bosses. It follows that if your old boss is no longer there, even going back to the same job you had can be a very different proposition.


There is only one way to know what you want: to try things, to experiment, to experiment. Unless you allow yourself to fail, you will never truly succeed because in the best case scenario, you will not step out of your comfort zone and test the limits of your potential. And of course, learning from your failures is the best way to improve your understanding of your own potential and grow your career.

There may be good reasons to return to your former employer, especially if you can change – and hopefully improve – bosses, if your skills or interests have changed, or in the less likely case than your former employer. has changed, at least in their talent priorities or areas of focus.

Remember though, as Heraclitus said, “No man ever walks twice in the same river, because it is not the same river, and it is not the same man. As long as you can carefully and objectively assess the costs and benefits of finding your former employer, there is no inherent or de facto reason to rule out this possibility. More importantly, no one else will care as much as you think, so do what feels right to you, knowing that you can never predict the outcome with perfect accuracy.