Can You Make a Workplace U-turn?
It's a potential career nightmare: You switch jobs, only to realize days or weeks later that it was all a huge mistake.
While it may seem inconceivable, it is possible to make the dreaded employment U-turn.
Bouncing back to a former employer after quitting isn't the resume killer it once was. People who have done it say it is often worth the humiliation of having to admit a mistake and beg former colleagues to take you back. Returning employees usually end up appreciating their jobs more. And their careers can emerge unscathed, if they give sound reasons for flip-flopping -- and stay put for a while in their second stint.
'The new normal is that movement from job to job is tolerated' in many fields, says Bob Damon, president of the Americas for Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based executive-search and leadership-consulting firm. With companies rushing to adapt to changing markets, it is increasingly easy to make mistakes matching people to jobs, he says. And a shortage of skilled workers in many fields makes more companies 'perfectly willing to take back good employees.'
杉矶高管猎头兼领导力咨询公司光辉国际(Korn/Ferry International)美洲区总裁鲍勃·戴蒙(Bob Damon)说，在很多领域中，“容忍跳槽已经成为新的常态”。他说，企业都在争先恐后地适应风云变幻的市场，人员与岗位的搭配越来越容易出错。而很多领域缺乏熟练程度高的员工，使越来越多的企业“巴不得让好员工回来”。
U-turns happen most often among people in design, tech, media agencies and consulting firms, says Tim McIntyre, chief executive of the Executive Search Group, of South Glastonbury, Conn. Some job-changers say they boomerang back because they miss a workplace culture or a respected boss. Others quit to join an entrepreneurial venture, then return after the opportunity fizzles.
康涅狄格州南格拉斯顿伯里高管猎头集团（Executive Search Group）的首席执行长蒂姆·麦金太尔(Tim McIntyre)说，吃回头草的现象在设计、科技、传媒和咨询公司里面最为常见。有些换工作的人说，之所以回来，是因为他们想念某种工作氛围或某个受尊重的老板。另一些人辞职加入某个初创企业，机会消失之后又回来了。
John Turner's U-turn took just 18 months. He left his job as director of business analysis for Healthways, a Franklin, Tenn., company, after a headhunter recruited him in 2011. Mr. Turner had worked with data to help develop and track behavioral-change programs for improving the health and well-being of its customers' patients and employees.
At his new employer, Walgreen Co., he scored a raise, a corner office in the company's Nashville offices and an opportunity to work with a huge health-care database at a company nearly 100 times Healthways' size in both employment and sales. As a senior director of client-enterprise reporting, he oversaw five data-analysis teams in three states.
After seven years at Healthways, though, Mr. Turner had grown accustomed to its intense fitness-focused culture. He wore workout gear to the office, took on-site yoga classes and ran with colleagues at lunch; Healthways Chief Executive Ben Leedle was his teammate for two overnight relay races. And Mr. Turner got free advice over the phone from a personal-health coach provided by the firm.
By contrast, during his first week at Walgreens, when Mr. Turner told his new co-workers he was running a half-marathon, he says 'everybody looked at me like I had two heads.' Separated from his fitness-minded former colleagues, he says he stopped exercising and gained nearly 25 pounds over the next year.
Mr. Turner thought he would like having a private office, after working for years in Healthways' open-plan headquarters. To his surprise, 'I missed the open space,' which fostered deskside meetings and easy access to higher-ups, he says. And the sheer size of Walgreens, with $72.2 billion in annual sales and 240,000 employees, made it harder, he says, to make changes or see how his data analysis benefited customers.
Despite its size, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, the company has an 'entrepreneurial spirit,' with initiatives like pharmacist-administered flu shots and free mobile apps for refilling prescriptions. The company doesn't comment on individual employees, he says.
Mr. Turner says he liked his Walgreens colleagues and the company's focus on customer service. Like many managers there, he worked at a Walgreens store in his neighborhood over the holidays in 2011. He performed well and was promoted to vice president. But at home with his wife Katie and their two children, Ellie Kate, 4, and Jack, 2, Mr. Turner says, 'I was depressed. I wasn't as engaged.'
He stuck it out for a year and stayed six weeks after resigning to help his boss, then spent several months at home caring for his children and thinking things over. After exploring and rejecting two other job prospects as 'exactly what I just left,' he says, he decided to try to return to Healthways at any pay, in any job.
One criterion for a successful U-turn, Mr. Damon says, is to explain what has changed since the employee quit. 'An employer needs assurance' it won't get dumped again for the same reasons, he says.
In an email to Mr. Leedle in fall 2012, Mr. Turner described his change in attitude. After 'some soul-searching,' he wrote, he realized he had taken for granted what he had at Healthways, including employees' focus on 'creating a healthier world one person at a time.' That mantra is sandblasted into the front walkway of the company's headquarters.
Mr. Leedle says he was glad to receive Mr. Turner's email. If employees who perform well 'have slipped away, we're happy to re-engage them,' he says. Healthways found a spot for Mr. Turner within a month as a director of market analytics, at the same pay as his Walgreens job.
Asking to return was gut-wrenching, Mr. Turner says. 'It's hard to admit to an entire company of people you respect that you were wrong.' But he got a warm welcome, and no one criticized him.
Employers have different rules about rehiring employees. A few ban the practice altogether, to encourage loyalty. Many others classify departing employees as 'eligible for rehire' or not, based on performance, says Paul Rubenstein, an executive at Aon Hewitt, a Lincolnshire, Ill., benefits-consulting firm.
不同用人单位对于重新聘用员工有着不同的规定。有些公司完全禁止这样做，以鼓励员工效忠。伊利诺依州Lincolnshire薪酬咨询公司Aon Hewitt的高管保罗·鲁本斯坦(Paul Rubenstein)说，另外很多公司根据离职员工的绩效把他们分为“适合重新聘用”或“不适合重新聘用”两类。
A successful U-turn requires more from the former employee than just a humble-pie moment. Most employers like to see such resume rebounds 'bookended by years of a solid track record on each side,' says Executive Search Group's Mr. McIntyre.
Mr. Turner, 41, isn't likely to move on soon. Perks he regarded in the past as 'cheesy,' such as yoga classes, make sense to him now. 'I realized that is what makes us a living lab,' he says. He works in the open at a standing desk, fueling impromptu meetings with colleagues at all levels.
Other people bounce back to an old employer after a new venture falls short. David Greene quit his job as an account executive at SAS, a Cary, N.C., maker of business-analytics software, in 2005 to become vice president of a digital-imaging startup co-founded by a friend, where he hoped to use his skills as a photographer.
Mr. Greene didn't leave without misgivings. When he helped tour customers around SAS headquarters a week before leaving, explaining the on-site health-care, child-care and fitness centers and other benefits that keep the company's turnover low, he thought, 'I'm crazy for leaving here,' he says. He took pains to depart on good terms, giving a month's notice and helping train his replacement.
Just 3 1/2 months later, the startup changed direction and dropped the photo-sharing business that had attracted him. Mr. Greene stayed 14 more months, doing a different job that didn't interest him.
Mr. Greene says he probably stayed six months too long. Korn/Ferry's Mr. Damon recommends moving quickly after realizing a new job is a mistake. 'If you decide to leave, every day longer that you spend there is another day you'll feel unhappy and unfulfilled,' Mr. Damon says.
But Mr. Greene, 50, says he learned new organizational and leadership skills. And when he reached out to former SAS colleagues in 2007, he was offered and accepted a job within a few days.