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The ‘boomerang’ talent trend: What managers and employees need to understand

External rewards are tempting, but the key to finding the career love of your life is intrinsic satisfaction.

The ‘boomerang’ talent trend: What managers and employees need to understand
[ GoodIdeas ; STUDIO GRAND WEB /AdobeStock]

“All your coworkers who quit are about to come back as boomerang employees,” CNBC predicted in November as the number of workers who quit their jobs reached the highest level ever recorded.

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They weren’t exactly wrong. Many of the 4.4 million people who quit during that historic month have made a happy home in new companies, but stories of “boomerangs” are bubbling up everywhere I turn. As the founder and CEO of a company that advises female leaders through big career moves and works with corporate brands on human innovation, I know a lot of people who fall somewhere on this spectrum right now: they’re considering jumping the fence; they recently jumped; or they’ve jumped and want to go back because the grass wasn’t actually greener. Turns out, sometimes it’s the “hopping the fence” part that’s most attractive, not where you land on the other side.

I get it. I myself had a boomerang moment early in my career that taught me something valuable about changing jobs. And it can save you a lot of heartache if you or your employees are eyeing the fence.

Picture me, 20-something Amy Jo, moving up the ladder at a family-owned advertising agency when recruiters from two shiny brands came calling. My employer had promoted me from intern to coordinator to assistant account manager to senior account manager and beyond, but those steps felt small to me at the time, and I worried I was doomed to always be seen as “the intern.”

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On the flip side, the logos courting me were dazzling. One company flew me to Denver for interviews and made me a lucrative offer. Another countered stronger and harder. I ultimately said yes to the latter company, romanced by a bigger title and the prestige of a well-known brand. Yep, I hopped that fence and didn’t look back.

That is, until a month later, when I quietly scooped my IKEA desk decorations into my purse, walked out of the office and emailed my bosses to suggest they forward my email to someone else because I would no longer be with the company. (Not my proudest moment! I do not suggest this.)

The second email I sent from the parking lot that day was to my former boss: “Can we get lunch? I made a mistake.”

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Once I peeled back the brand logo that had enticed me, I realized that neither the company culture nor the job itself was a good fit. The vibe felt cutthroat compared to the multigenerational family environment I was used to. The role was a mismatch for my core competencies.

Luckily, the agency welcomed me back—with a promotion. When I returned, it felt like going home.

We learn what we must teach, and here’s my lesson: The grass isn’t always greener on the other side; it’s the hopping the fence that’s fun.

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Another 4.3 million people left their jobs in January—the so-called Great Resignation isn’t going away. Jumpers want the thrill and novelty of hopping that fence. And there are a lot of carrots on the other side in a candidates’ job market. Big salaries, signing bonuses, flexible work arrangements, and quality-of-life benefits are chief among them.

Those are just some of the lures I’ve heard from people who have called the Renegade Resignation Hotline, where my team counsels people contemplating a job change. My best advice, toll-free: Don’t expect an external change to lead to an internal result.

What does this mean if you’re looking to leap? Ask yourself four critical questions first:

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• Are you being honest with yourself about what will fulfill you? For example, do you want a raise or to feel valued? Are you missing purpose or alignment? Do you need a title change or growth?

• Have you had a candid conversation with your manager?

• Do you need a 180-degree pivot or a five-degree shift?

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• How can you flirt with this change before progressing to dating and marrying it?

My friend Andres Treslavia has interviewed 2,000 high-level job seekers as an executive recruiter. He left and boomeranged back to Whole Foods Market, where he is the head of executive search and talent acquisition. He shared his birds-eye view with me in a recent “Why Not Now?” podcast episode. The takeaway: look for meaning, not just a hefty compensation package, in your next opportunity.

External rewards are tempting, but the key to finding the career love of your life is intrinsic satisfaction. Happiness is always an inside job. The good news is we’ve had two years to look inward. If we apply what we’ve learned about ourselves, we can’t go wrong. If we get swept up in the frenzy of mass exits (and carrots that won’t fulfill us), we’ll create the same prison for ourselves on the other side.

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Amy Jo Martin Investor, NY Times bestselling author, Founder/CEO Renegade Global

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