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askST Jobs: Is rejoining a past employer a good thing?

In this series, manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career. Get more tips by signing up to The Straits Times’ HeadSTart newsletter.

Q: I am about to resume work with a former employer. What should I look out for?

A: In a tight labour market where progressive hiring practices are taking root, employers increasingly value and woo “boomerang employees” who return for another stint after leaving to work elsewhere.

Returning to a former employer has become more acceptable in the last decade or so, said Mr Faiz Modak, who heads the tech and transformation business for recruitment firm Robert Walters Singapore.

In August, the firm released results on the trend from a survey of almost 1,000 professionals from six countries in the Asia-Pacific, including 150 in Singapore.

“We’ve seen a lot of people being willing and open to going back, compared with previous years,” Mr Modak said in an episode of ST’s Career Talk podcast released on Monday.

Organisations are now “more than willing” to re-engage previous employees too, he added.

Employers who hire boomerang employees stand to gain a more agile and skilled workforce.

“Organisations have said that they spend a lot less time on inducting these employees into the workforce because they already have been there. The values… are well-aligned.”

These returnees also tend to hit the ground running quicker, reducing both the upfront cost of training and the opportunity cost, Mr Modak said.

The wisdom, skills and experience gained in finding out that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere could also help boomerang employees advance faster and further when they return, he added.

He also said that in Robert Walters’ survey, Singaporean respondents’ top three reasons for being open to returning to a former workplace were better remuneration, better career progression and leadership changes in their current company.

However, he cautioned that employees should remind themselves of what drove them to leave the company previously before they sign on again.

“A challenge past employees face is having the right motivation to go back, and making sure that the reasons (for them leaving) in the first place have been addressed.”

Such reasons include a negative work environment, negative leadership style, lack of work-life balance or opportunities.

Prospective boomerang employees should not be complacent and assume that they will be comfortable in a familiar environment. They should also not assume that their new role will be similar to the role they left.

Familiar faces may be in a different role or handling different tasks, and work processes may have changed, Mr Modak said.

In his experience, boomerang employees tend to be welcomed by their colleagues, rather than being perceived as mercenaries or threats to those who stayed on.

Such sentiments can be kept in check when leaders communicate with the team on its needs. They can explain how rehiring an alumnus with exposure in another company can fulfil those needs, sometimes even better than someone new to the firm, he said.

That a former employee is willing to return also reflects well on the employer’s work environment.

Mr Modak added: “When people want to return to the (company’s) workforce, that is actually a very good thing as it gives current employees the confidence that the organisation is willing to re-engage and reinvest in someone who had left before.”

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