Working for The Man has its good sides and its bad sides. One reality is that your perceived value is great to outsiders — usually greater than it is to insiders. Even if your colleagues and supervisors genuinely appreciate what you bring to the table and think that you’re a swell guy, there’s always the possibility that someone on the outside (at another company) will think that you are worth more to their business than you actually are. Conceptually, this is akin to thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.

Think about it: Throughout history, people have often been more concerned with strangers’ well-being than that of their own families. Even in matters of the heart, people sometimes seem kinder to people they just met than to their significant others. The business world is similar. And some employees are more loyal to strangers than to their own employers.

Accordingly, we are often drawn to opportunities on the outside. Naturally, some of these opportunities tend to present themselves in the form of previous employers, since they tend to have a better sense of what one can bring to the table.

Boomerang employees

Employees who return to their previous places of work are called boomerang employees. Providing we leave on good terms, there is always a chance to return to our old employers. In fact, this is the top reason why all exits should remain graceful. No matter how much you might need a change, no matter how much you might want to leave with a bang, always leave the back door open.

Years ago, I worked at a fairly large corporation — the largest bank in the nation. I was still in college, and as such, near the bottom of the ladder. Upon completing my business degree in finance, I presumed that suddenly, doors would open and the seas would part for me. Of course I was wrong; way wrong.

The fact of the matter was that, in my mind, my current predicament at the company trumped all else. Meanwhile, competing banks were offering me much greater positions, higher pay and a considerably brighter future. In the end, I decided to forgo all of that hoopla to move away from the corporate setting to a start-up one (although it soon became clear that I was not alone in doing so). When you’re in a company and not on the fast track, it’s often the case that you will move up the corporate ladder much faster by making a vertical move across the industry, as opposed to trying to move up vertically within a company.

Returning can sometimes do more damage than good…

A colleague left the bank at the same time that I did. He ended up returning months later and assuming the same position that he had left — by his own admission, with his ego somewhat bruised. Now, there was nothing wrong with returning to the company, department or position, but the fact of the matter was that by returning to the exact same position, he mismanaged his career. He could have used his experience to join another bank at a higher level, or at the same level but with more pay, or any other combination. What he probably failed to realize is that outsiders will always value your experience more than insiders, since insiders can immediately think of a handful, dozens, or even hundreds of other people with the same job (your colleagues).

Regardless, once you start contemplating returning to an old employer, ask yourself why. After all, unless you were offered the greatest job in the history of occupations, you left for a reason. Uunless you need to return desperately, be sincere with your assessment as to whether or not things have really changed.

Furthermore, ask yourself how your experiences since your departure have changed your value to the company. If you previously worked in accounting and then went on to get more experience in computer systems, your employer should recognize this. If you’re doing the same function but at a higher level, your compensation should reflect this added experience.

How has the culture changed? Have people changed, too? And if they so, have they changed for the better or have things gotten worse since you left?

E-mail of the week:

I would love to see an article on how to motivate members of a team to work harder. I’m currently part of a six-person team in which one guy has a hard time getting things done. It’s not that he’s too busy or has a social problem; he just has a hard time motivating himself. We’re trying various ideas and are currently talking to other teams too. However, this seems like a topic other people might run into as well — especially young pros.

I think one of the major mistakes young professionals make is in thinking that they are in a school-like setting where everyone needs to split tasks evenly and where everyone will get the same grade.

The truth is that in life, some people are more adept than others, and some are more driven than others. While it is imperative for leaders to lead and motivate peers, they should do so knowing that some people will not go from 0 to 10, motivation-wise. So instead of spending 80% of your energy trying to motivate someone who can simply not get that motivated, spend 20% of your time on that and 80% on other things (like motivating the people who will yield results).

And there is karma: Those who put in less invariably do not get as far ahead… be it in business or in life.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at