Wishing you'd never quit? See whether returning to your old job is a wise move

You've had the leaving do, received a card from former colleagues with all good wishes for the future, and emptied your desk, ready for the next step in your career. Goodbye to the old job and welcome to the new! But soon after, you find yourself feeling nostalgic – regretful even – and asking yourself this question: “should I go back to my old job?” 

Going back to your old job – how to decide  

They say that starting is always the hardest part of any change. As you begin a new job, the road ahead can feel daunting, so it's perfectly normal to long for your old, familiar space. 

Deciding to return to your former role, however, is never straightforward. You've already left, cut ties, and moved on. To help you make this tricky decision, it's worth assessing your situation, including the good and not-so-good circumstances for rejoining your old company:

The pros: when it's ok to go back to your old job

When asking yourself “should I go back to my old job,” there are many things to weigh up. If you left amicably, without getting fired, it might be worth considering quitting the job you just started and asking for your old job back. Let's take a quick look at some of the advantages that returning to your old company may offer you:

You're a “boomerang employee” who can hit the ground running

That is, a member of staff who leaves a company but then returns later on to work for that company again. This behaviour is more common than you think. In fact, recent research suggests that 56% of UK employees would return to their former employer. 

So long as you've left in good standing, your manager can prioritise your hiring. This makes sense as one of the biggest challenges when you get a new job is getting to grips with how everything works. It's a learning curve for most new hires. Everything from how the IT systems work to where the toilets are is a mystery. 

However, as a returning employee, you can get up to speed with the company's systems and processes much faster than a totally new employee. From a business perspective, this also makes you a more affordable hire. The manager knows that they won't have to spend a wealth of resources making sure that you're trained for the job.

You thrive better in a familiar workplace culture 

There's nothing new about your old workplace. The people, the management, and the protocols are likely to be the same. Sometimes, it really is a case of it being “better the devil you know.” If you crave familiarity in your work life, you might find that this is the right step for you. 

This pro depends entirely on the reason you previously quit the job. You might have left the company in search of better pay, more benefits, or better progression opportunities, all of which are valid. However, you may have found that the workplace culture is more important to you. 

You can bring new skills to the position 

Let's say that you've been away from the role for a while. You may have picked up new skills in other companies. Bringing these to your former workplace can strengthen your standing and may even help you climb the career ladder. For that reason, it's important to be clear about the new competencies that you've gained and how they impact your position. 

You get bonus points if the skills you've acquired are transferable, as they tend to be in high demand. For example, communication, leadership, organisation, and time management skills will always put you in a good position. Think about which ones you have gained lately.

The cons: when it's not ok to go back to your old job

Now that we've covered the upsides of returning to your former workplace, let's talk about why it might not be a smart choice to go back to your old job:

Your work relationships have already suffered

If you left your old job under a cloud, you may want to think twice here. Chances are, your old employer will be reluctant to even consider having you back. And would you seriously want to return to a place where there are bad memories or scars that haven't healed? 

Before you attempt to go back to your old job, think about the relationship you have with the team. You may have left because of a toxic workplace, for example, and be forgetting that small but mighty detail. In that case, take off the rose-tinted glasses and look to the future instead. 

Things about and around your former job have changed

Don't make the mistake of presuming that returning to your old job is easy. Sure, you may know the systems, but things could've changed. You might return to your previous role only to find that the work-life setup you once knew has changed. If that's the case, it could take you longer to acclimate to it once again. Factor this in before deciding whether it's the best move for you. 

Additionally, you may no longer be the best fit for the role, having been away for a while. Both you and the position have had the time to develop. You may even find that you have to relearn the basics of your role, which can take time, dedication, and energy to get right.

Going back feels like a step backwards

Returning to an old job can be odd. It could feel like a step back in your career, a bit like moving back home after finding your independence at university. You made the decision to leave the company before now, so what has really changed? Is it fear that's driving this choice?

You're not the only one having these thoughts. Your former colleagues may be less than welcoming, viewing you with reduced loyalty to the company. The fact that you left shows that you're willing to jump ship. So, you may have to work extra hard to prove that you're on board.

Do you really want to go back to your old job?

It might be the case that you're thinking about going back to your old job after just a month or a few months of securing a new one. In addition to asking yourself, “should I go back to my old job?” ask yourself the following:

“Why do I feel this way?”

Focus on why you're suddenly thinking about your past job. Have you given enough time and energy to the new role? So you feel nervous, unsure of how the IT system works, and have barely spoken to any of your new colleagues – don't fret; these are perfectly normal new-job nerves. Remember your first day at school? It's the same, and it can be scary, but stick with it for a bit longer.

“What was I looking forward to after quitting my old job?”

Remember what made you excited about your new job in the first place. Yes, achieving your goals will take time, but that's part of your new journey. You don't want to miss on these new-job opportunities and be one of those who went back to their old job and regretted it!

If, after a while, things still don't feel right and your mental health is suffering, or you're being bullied, then it might be time to reconsider.

Is it embarrassing to go back to your old job?

It's not embarrassing to return to an old job. However, you should be mindful of the reception you'll get when you return. Think about how you left things with both the employer and your coworkers. If the thought of re-applying for your old job fills you with sheer dread, that's a sign that it may not be the way to go.

Tips on going back to your old job

So, you've decided you want your old job back. There's really no need to grovel to your boss. In a way, it's rather flattering that you would want to ask for it. You know that you can perform to a high standard, so why wouldn't they want you? Swallow your pride, assess the mood of your former employer, and go for it. Here are some quick tips:

  • Be clear on your decision. Think through your decision carefully before vocalising it and remind yourself why you left the organisation in the first place.

  • Connect with your old boss. See if they're still holding the same position, then speak to them about your plans. Glean anything that's changed while you've been away.

  • Show your value. Highlight your increased experience, newly acquired skills, and your commitment moving forward to prove you're loyal and trustworthy.

  • Get recommendations. Consider asking old colleagues for recommendations to demonstrate that you're still worthy of the job and can work cohesively as a former and future team member.

  • Always be professional. Remain professional at all times throughout the process, being sensitive to the fact that this is quite an unusual situation while championing the idea that this is a wise move and one neither of you will regret.

  • Keep your options open. If your old position has been filled, yet your former boss really respected you, then show your enthusiasm, and hopefully, you'll be contacted once a similar position becomes vacant.

Start and finish professionally

Should you go back to your old job, aim to leave your current employer on good terms. You never know what might happen in the world of work, especially if you're staying in the same industry. If a role is available and you know you've nurtured the positive reputation and skills to do it, there's little reason to think you wouldn't be considered by your former employer – again.

Apply for the role at your old company, treating it as a totally new position. Why not get a free CV review to ensure that you're painting yourself in the best light?

This article was originally written by Elizabeth Openshaw and has been updated by Charlotte Grainger.

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