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A businesswoman knocking on a door

Managing the great regret: When an employee wants to come back


Many employees who joined the great resignation have found out that their new company is not what they expected. Barry Ross advises accountancy firms who now have ex-employees knocking on their door again.

22nd Aug 2022
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The combined force of the pandemic and Covid-19 dramatically shifted the way that people felt about the workplace and their employers.

For the first time, a workplace culture had less of an impact and for many, the benefits of a higher salary, the chance to work in a remote location, or a complete shift of career saw employees leaving their jobs in droves and starting elsewhere. This became known as the great resignation and for some employees, shows no sign of slowing down if research from 2022 is correct.

Recruitment and retention of staff was already an issue for accounting firms before the pandemic, with 46% of entrants to the Accounting Excellence Awards in 2019 citing it as their biggest challenge.  The great resignation did nothing to change that, with the number rising to 53% in 2022. 

Grass isn’t always greener

Despite the prospect of the great resignation continuing, many employees have found out that the grass isn’t always greener.

A survey carried out by The Muse, found that 72% of people that left their roles during the pandemic and started a new job, found to their surprise, or regret, that the role, or the company, is very different to what they understood.  

A further report by UKG found that 43% of leavers admitted they were better off in their old role and almost 20% of people were looking to boomerang back to it.

It appears that this trend may not be over, the great regret following the great resignation.

Great regret FAQs

It may be that the great regret is the perfect situation given the recruitment problems that have arisen for accounting businesses, but there are a few employment law questions that arise as a consequence of potentially rehiring ex-employees.  

Do we have to take them back?

Not if you don’t want to! There is no obligation on you to rehire an employee just because they have come back to you. It may be precisely what you want, but the decision is one that remains firmly yours.

Do they have any right to the same role, the same terms, or even better terms?

Provided that there was a genuine resignation, and not a “heat of the moment resignation” that the employee tries to retract very quickly, then there is a clean slate for you and them to agree. You are able to offer whatever you see fit that helps you to meet the needs of the business, but also actively  and appropriately incentivise the returning employee.

Do we have to offer remote, hybrid or flexible working?

The default position is that you are legally entitled to offer the terms and type of working that you want to, whether that be office based, hybrid or otherwise. You should however be mindful of the right of employees to submit a flexible working request (which could become a day one right) and ensuring that your working practices would not amount to direct discrimination, or indirect discrimination because of a protected characteristic.

What if the rehire does not work out?

There is always the chance that the returning employee is no longer as motivated as they once were, perhaps if the role is less money, or they are unhappy to take a step back. If the arrangement is clearly not working, there is always the ability to terminate their employment with lower risk to the business as they have not accrued the relevant two years’ service to claim unfair dismissal.   

On a practical level, it is a reminder to ensure that an employer should put a clear probationary period clause into the employee’s contract, and you manage their performance properly during that period as with any new employee. 

While termination may be available as an option in these circumstances, it is important to remember that there are a number of claims which can be brought without two years’ service, including claims for discrimination, or detriments suffered as a result of making a protected disclosure, which is otherwise known as whistleblowing. Bearing this in mind, it is important to ensure that any decisions to terminate are supported by evidence so that you, as the employer, can demonstrate that they are not, for example, discriminatory.

Familiar ground again

But if all goes to plan with a rehire, both employer and employee should mutually benefit from being reunited again. For the employer, it can help ease recruitment challenges with an employee who is capable of immediately hitting the ground running, while an employee can avoid a further job search and has the reassurance of more familiar ground.

Have any of your former employees come knocking on your door? Have you regretted a recent move you've made?

Last year's winners of the Accounting Excellence Awards next to the sponsors logos: Inuit Quickbooks, Xero, Koinly, Sage, Iris, Mercia, Bright and Beanworks by Quadient

Replies (12)

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By TaxTeddy
22nd Aug 2022 13:17

It reminds me of when I left the Inland Revenue (as it then was) back in the 1980s.

At that time, because of my grade, my job was "left open" for six months and it seems this policy was in place because so many people left the Revenue to join professional firms and were horrified when they found they had to work for a living. So quite a few suddenly realised what a cushy job it was in the Revenue and came scurrying back - even for lower pay.

Later on in life I tended to refer to this as a "muppet retention policy".

Thanks (10)
Replying to TaxTeddy:
By Hugo Fair
22nd Aug 2022 22:10

Exactly ... and a good label.

Imagine you were contemplating hiring them as an unknown quantity.
Would the evidence of their poor decision-making be a plus? Or their desire for a less challenging environment? Or, most importantly, their breaking of the previous relationship?

I have never re-hired someone (even when I liked them and their previous record was good) ... nor have I 'got back together' with a girlfriend after a break-up (not that these are of course directly comparable)!

Thanks (3)
Replying to TaxTeddy:
By rob winder
23rd Aug 2022 10:29

I've a friend who's just joined HMRC and I think he mentioned they can leave for up to a year and then come back on the same grade if not exactly the same job. He's worked in industry all his life prior to this and doesn't have a particularly high opinion of your career civil servant.

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
23rd Aug 2022 09:39

The only circumstances where I would entertain this is if a) a number of years have gone by and things have changed for either party and b) if the original split was entirely amicable. But I have a strong preference for "never go back" chances are you will end up in the same position again

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By bobsto12
23rd Aug 2022 09:49

Never go back in life generally. Its depressing and the same problems always reappear eventually.

Thanks (3)
By tedbuck
23rd Aug 2022 10:04

Only did it once for a valued employee but it didn't work so wouldn't do it again.

Thanks (2)
By Yossarian
23rd Aug 2022 10:39

Twenty years ago I resigned from a job in practice working for probably the best boss I've ever known, lured by the better pay and benefits of an accountancy software company. Within the first couple of weeks working in IT I began to realise I'd made a huge mistake but stuck it out for six months. It eventually reached the point that I couldn't stand my new employer any more, and fortunately my nice former boss let me go back. I then worked for him until he eventually retired.

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By Jimess
23rd Aug 2022 10:38

I went back to a former employer within a few months of leaving and worked for them for about 18 years until circumstances on both sides changed. It was a positive for me and I hope for them too, it gave me the opportunity to become involved in some really interesting and challenging projects.

Thanks (1)
By indomitable
23rd Aug 2022 10:47

Not sure this as an issue.

You must be able to count on your hand the number of employees that go back to an old employer. Very rarely happens. In fact in all my years I don't know anyone that has gone back and been re-employed by a company they left. Never or very rarely happens or have times changed?

I know a few that came back as contractors but that is a different issue

Thanks (3)
By mkowl
23rd Aug 2022 20:56

Yes an interesting one, I had my old assistant come back to work for me about 9 months ago. She had a few years at another employer, but then gave up work to be a full time Mum and asked when her daughter went to school full time

So slightly different circumstances but the real benefit is we know how to work together, and she is tolerant of her doing work and me finally checking it weeks later

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By neiltonks
25th Aug 2022 09:27

I've never understood this attitude of treating leavers as traitors who must never be allowed to darken your doors again.

People leave jobs for a lot of reasons, many of which are not down to fault on either side. They often go on to gain new skills, experience or qualifications with their subsequent employer(s). Companies which reject applicants just because they've had a previous period of employment, regardless of the circumstances in which that came to an end, are denying themselves the chance to benefit from the more experienced and better qualified person who applies to re-join them.

Of course, if they left under a cloud things are different but in practice most people leave jobs amicably.

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By AndrewV12
02nd Sep 2022 10:31

I could never go back to previous employer but a lot of Accountants do.

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