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The great leap backward: Should you go back to a former employer?

Your old employer is looking for someone exactly like you. Shane Cubis ponders whether one should return to a prior role. And if, next time you resign, people have to give you another leaving card.

The great leap backward: Should you go back to a former employer?

After long deliberation, you spread your wings, flew the coop, looked up further bird-related clichés and found a new position with which to feather your own nest. But now… now your old workplace is looking for someone with exactly your skills and experience to take on a role. It would be so easy, and you can even have your old desk back, with the window.

It’s a tough decision to make: you’ll either lay a golden egg or be cooked. But either way, you’re a goose.

There are seductive benefits to making a dramatic return to an old job – depending on how long you’ve been away; it’s like finding a comfy old shirt in the bottom drawer.

Workflows, content and even the people will be familiar, which means you can take it easier than you’d have to in a new organisation. And you already know which toilets smell the least worst, where to buy the best lunch pad thai and who’s good for an after-work cheekster at the pub.

But it can also quickly become a rut or dead end. Even if you’re returning in a higher-up role, there’s often a sense that you’ve stagnated. That this is all there is. And oh god, you forgot about that woman with the nagging cough who made you homicidal on a daily basis.

Or the light-sensitive colleague who needs your window’s curtain closed at all times because he gets headaches. You might have evolved in your time away, but it’s odds-on the same politics and structural issues will have remained entrenched.

(If they haven’t, great! You should buy a Lotto ticket. And remember me in your will, even though I unambiguously called you a goose.)

If you’re going to make the great leap backward, it’s important to do it on your own terms. Start as you mean to go on, setting out new-and-improved personal boundaries and relationships that will take a constant battery from the tractor beams of the past. Fight even harder than usual against habit, against falling back into the patterns that made you leave in the first place.

Take the lessons you’ve learnt from other organisations, and start applying them as soon as possible. Not everything will be effective, and some things are probably best kept as they are, but the quicker you establish yourself as a stronger-better-smarter version of the person who left, the less it will feel like you never left in the first place.

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