‘Boomerang employees’ try new careers during pandemic, but still return to old jobs

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Nikki Mitchell loves her job in Human Resources at the J.W. Marriott downtown, but had to leave it to fully realize that fact.

She also qualifies as a so-called Boomerang Employee, one of the tens of thousands of workers who left a job during the pandemic only to return to the same job a few months later. 

In Mitchell’s case, she was furloughed from the hotel and saw it as a chance to use her college degree to pursue a new career in education with IPS.

“I thought, this is my opportunity to see what’s out there, check out the green grass on the other side of the fence and I did not think I would be so willing and able to come back when the position opened back for me,” said Mitchell.

As General Manager of the J.W. Marriott, Phil Ray has seen many employees return to their old jobs and not just because the pandemic has changed.  He says many of them used the disruption to try something new, but not necessarily better.

“We’ve had people leave our industry thinking they’re going to go do something they’ll enjoy more and then find out it’s not the same,” said Ray.

Dr. Mike Campion actually studied Boomerang Employees as part of a research project at Purdue. 

The study was done pre-pandemic, but Campion and his team analyzed data on more than 30,000 employees of a large retail chain.  The results were mixed.  The research showed Boomerang Employees brought valuable experience to the job, but also tend to be more likely to leave their job again. 

Still, Campion says the pandemic may have proven that the old saying really is true, the grass really isn’t greener after all.

“Doing gig work where you’re working with multiple organizations, sounds like a good idea, but having to worry about getting that next job all the time, I think will lead people back to the same employer if they can,”  said Campion.

With staff shortages so commonplace, it’s no surprise that businesses often welcome Boomerang Employees back with open arms as long as they left on good terms, at least to a point.

“I have a saying, you can take one sabbatical with me.  You can leave, but you can come back one time.  But if you leave a second time, I’m not sure you can come back a third,” said Ray.

For her part, Mitchell has no plans to switch careers again.  If anything, the pandemic convinced her that she’s lucky to have a job she loves.

“You just have to take it day by day,” Mitchell said. “It’s a blessed stress situation.”

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