Would One of Your Former Employees Really Want to Come Back?

Would you want to go back?

I was just asked for references, so it looks good — right?” read the text message. This young lady was in the throes of interviewing, and yes, I told her this is a good sign.

However what happened next caused both of us to do some thinking. As she reached out to her old boss and another former team member, the trajectory changed. Sure they would give her a reference, but more importantly, would she consider coming back?

Wow-Wow-Wow” was her first text to me after that conversation. In essence, they told her they really saw how valuable she was after she left and wanted to know whether she would come back with a higher title and, of course, more money?

Would you go back?

We all have had jobs that we could not wait to get out of. We also may have had jobs that we were let go from through no fault of our own. The question is — would you go back to a prior job if you were asked?

When I was at Martha Stewart during its heyday, she had to go to jail and we laid off the entire TV division. Around 200 of our people lost their jobs the day after the verdict because CBS cancelled Martha’s show.

We kept in touch with everyone and tried to find them jobs as best we could. Because of that enduring contact, we stayed connected with everyone during the entire time that Martha was “away.”

The day after she was released, it was announced that Martha would be returning to TV. One email went out to get the status of everyone in the TV division who had left, and for the most part, everyone came back on board.

But that was then. It may be different now that the culture has changed, but the lesson learned was that all these good people that quit their jobs decided to come back.

The culture that you left

After the euphoria of the conversation with this young lady wore down, I gave her a call to find out her thoughts. She was flattered by the offer to return and just could not believe it. However, she would not go back she said, regardless of the title and offer.

Her decision was based on the work culture — 10-12 hour days, five days a week, being on call on weekends. Plus, having to constantly monitor emails throughout the night, last-minute business trips, and temper tantrums with yelling and screaming as a way of life.

Yes, it is good to be wanted but I do not want to ever get in that situation again,” was her reply. She added: “They could not offer me enough money to get back into that culture.”

Lots of companies today, especially in technology, gladly welcome back departing employees, and there are alumni groups all over LinkedIn and Facebook. That should be part of any organization’s talent management strategy, but the key is the corporate culture that employees remember from when they left.

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That will always be the key. If the culture was toxic when they left, what is the value proposition for them if they return? If you are thinking money, forget about it. Even if they do come back, they will eventually get frustrated and leave again.

When reality about a return sets in

When I think about this, my first thought is that there is not a job in my past that I would want to return to. There’s no amount of money to get me to do it, because although at the time a job seemed ideal, it loses something as you grow and experience other challenges.

While the notion of going back to what once was may sound romantic (like riding back in on the white horse to save the day), for me, returning would simply be a bad imitation of the former job.

Organizations today should think through how they treat departing employees. This goes back to getting it right from Day 1.

Build your organization so that people will not want to leave. Set the bar so high that if they do leave your organization, it becomes the gold standard that all departing employees will gauge their future by.

If you are not the gold standard, everything else will look great.

An offer they can’t refuse?

Think for a second; if you were to go back to your departed employees and ask them to come back, would they do it?

If there answer is no, you may have a lot to do in polishing up your culture to make it inviting for re-entry.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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