When it’s OK to allow for a second act

Once an employee quits, he or she becomes de facto persona non grata even though management usually tries to be civil and say and do the right things. The soon-to-depart receives best wishes in the future for fame and fortune.

The company may even throw a goodbye, have-a-nice-life, 10-minute office party, replete with a cake, some confetti and a few words of praise, all the while the management representative is thinking, “good riddance, you ingrate.”

People don’t like to be abandoned; nor do companies, even though most times there is good reason for a formerly dedicated employee to want to move on to what is thought to be greener pastures. Maybe it’s for more money, greater responsibility or a new challenge.

More progressive and open-minded organizations, however, have learned that people who previously bid them sayonara can, when given a chance, subsequently come back to be superstars.

Any halfway decent team player is smart enough to know never to burn a bridge, even though their greatest fantasy is to tell the boss to “take this job and shove it.” To prove how valuable he or she may feel deep down inside, some secretly hope the place tanks soon after they have faded into the sunset.

However, I have had a number of more than decent employees leave me only to return and do a superb job in their second act. They rejoin the company after having garnered valuable new experience and a greater appreciation of what they had left behind.

It all gets down to how the employee left and how the employer dealt with the situation. If the employee provided inadequate notice or behaved unprofessionally during the waning weeks of employment, then it’s almost a certainty the departed would never get another chance at bat. If, however, the soon to secede rose to the occasion, wrapped up all the loose ends and even assisted in finding a replacement, I’ve welcomed that individual back with open arms.

There is a significant advantage to the company in providing a second bite at the apple for someone who has seen the light and wants to return. It’s a given that to be successful again the person will have to try twice as hard to make the encore a success. An ancillary benefit for those who have been to the other side is that they come back knowing that the grass is not always greener.

They usually return with a greater sense of purpose and a determination to excel. Another plus is that returning employees likely have decided, either consciously or subconsciously, that your company could very well be their last stop, the place where they want to make their mark.

People who take leave in the right way deserve a second chance, provided they’ve returned prepared to pay their dues. This can be a win-win when the returnee becomes one of the company’s best cheerleaders, not to mention a bit wiser, more appreciative and demonstrably committed. A career can be a lot longer than a nine-inning game.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and is co-founder and CEO at Max-Ventures.