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The Great Regret: 71% of professionals open to returning to pre-Covid job


71% of professionals are considering returning to their pre-Covid job after realising that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side after all. The workplace and employment market has changed considerably and pre-Covid criteria is not applicable in today’s hybrid working world.

A quarter of those who left pre-Covid admit to having already reached out to previous employer. The original reasons for leaving are no longer relevant for 49% due to changing priorities in the post-Covid world.

48% claim that current employer no longer meets their needs in current climate and a quarter state that cost-of-living crisis has changed how they feel about current employer.

Most employees had left on positive note and 82% remain in touch with previous employer – with third saying it is to keep the door open in case of needing to return.

Employers less enthusiastic on previous employees returning

But employers are not equally enthusiastic on returners as 44% of managers admit being hesitant to hire previous employees.

According to a recent poll from recruiter Robert Walters (of 3,000 professionals), 45% of workers who had left their job after lockdown did so for better pay – with a further 35% leaving for a better workplace culture or more purpose/fulfilment in their role.

Fast-forward two years later and 48% of professionals admit that their current employer is no longer meeting their needs – with a third stating the cost-of-living crisis and hybrid-working fatigue (24%) has changed how they feel about their most recent employment situation.

Toby Fowlston – CEO of global recruitment consultancy Robert Walters comments:

“The post-pandemic bounce back saw record numbers of employees leave their job in what was billed as ‘The Great Resignation.’ However, our research indicates the first signs of ‘The Great Regret’ – with 71% of professionals stating that they would like to return to their pre-Covid employer, a mere 18 months after leaving.

“Across 2021 we saw record pay rises offered to professionals, with promises of an uber flexible and hybrid culture. Come 2023, and these pay rises now pale in comparison to the rising cost of living and inflation – with those new starters who were offered inflated salaries being much less likely to have received a pay increase this year. It appears that workers are realising that the grass may not have been greener after all.”

Keeping a foot in the door of your pre-Covid job

82% of those surveyed admitted to staying in some form of contact with a previous manager – with almost a third stating that this was for the primary purpose of keeping the door open for future job opportunities (29%).

In fact – a quarter of professionals have admitted to reaching out to a previous employer in the past year regarding job opportunities, with a further 11% stating that they have not done it yet but intend too this year.

Less than 1 in 5 employees have completely shut the door on previous employers, with 18% stating that they keep zero contact with their previous manager.

Managers hesitant

Whilst the sentiment may be there from professionals, it seems the same cannot be said for managers – in fact 44% admit to being hesitant in allowing an old employee back into the team, with just a fifth stating that they would only consider it if they had been an ‘exceptional employee.’

Toby adds: “I’m afraid managers/employers need to swallow their pride here. Whilst the global recruitment market has slowed slightly in 2023, candidate shortages continue – and so the fact there is a pool of talent open to re-joining business should excite leaders.

“Not only that but this is talent that can hit the ground running – they have already been inducted into your business, they will be familiar with processes, and have a previous vested interest in the brand – all qualities which can take years to instil in a new employee.

“In light of this research not only should companies who are looking to hire consider reengaging with alumni, but they should also look to train managers on holding a positive exit process as ‘boomerang employees’ could well be a solution to skills shortage.

“A key thing for employers is to manage the return of boomerang employees amongst existing workers – in particular if someone is returning in a more senior position than when they left. A balance needs to be struck and employers should assess that they are doing all they can to open up lines of opportunity within an organisation, or they risk sending a message that one route to promotion and better package is to take the boomerang route.”

About Robert Walters

With more than 4,300 people in 31 countries, Robert Walters Group deliver recruitment consultancy, staffing, recruitment process outsourcing and managed services across the globe. From traditional recruitment and staffing to end-to-end talent management, our consultants are experts at matching highly skilled people to permanent, contract and interim roles across all professional disciplines, including; Accounting & Finance, Banking & Financial Services, Engineering, Human Resources, Information Technology, Legal, Sales & Marketing, Secretarial & Support, Supply Chain & Procurement.

Matt Ephgrave, MD of Just Eat for Business, 4knows how important it is to prioritise wellbeing of office returners.