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Breaking up is hard to do - so is getting rehired by the ex-boss

John Rinkenbaugh was laid off from his job as a public information officer last year, and like countless others made redundant during the recession he struggled to find work.

Then, about five months later, his former employer called. One of the company's workers had quit, and they wanted Mr. Rinkenbaugh back.

"I had nothing better going on," says the resident of Fort Myers, Still, he accepted the offer begrudgingly. "I'm not going to lie; I was a bit ticked off."

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Do I resent it? Yes. … But they were, in a sense, in the driver's seat. John Rinkenbaugh

As the economy improves and companies rebound, many employers are rehiring the very workers they laid off. But as those who've returned to a former workplace can attest, reuniting with an ex-employer can be like getting back together with an old flame.

Depending on who dumped whom, and how the breakup went, the reconciliation can be fraught with awkwardness and resentment, not to mention anxiety that a split could happen again.

"It's not as simple as people think, [that]you just go back and pick up where you left off," says Fiorella Callocchia, president of HR Impact, a human-resources consulting firm based in Mississauga. "It takes some faith on both sides."

She frequently sees employers and employees underestimate how tricky it can be. "They think it's going to be hunky-dory and lovey-dovey. …[But]it's like if you got back together with an old boyfriend or an old girlfriend: You don't just go right back to your best time."

Even though he returned to his old job, Mr. Rinkenbaugh still resents how his company let him go. While he was handed leaving papers, workers with much less seniority were able to keep their positions at the company's headquarters in Orlando. Mr. Rinkenbaugh was never offered the option of relocating there, he says.

That stung, especially since "when they hired me, they put a big trip on me about, you know, 'If you make this decision we want you to be committed'… and their commitment to me was zilch."

He also found the terms of his return insulting.

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"They tried to lowball me when they offered me to come back - part-time, no benefits, nothing," he says.

After some negotiation, he settled for less than he was paid previously, and less than he feels he deserves.

"Do I resent it? Yes. … But they were, in a sense, in the driver's seat. They could have probably asked someone else to do it." Besides, he adds, "I like the work."

To that end, Mr. Rinkenbaugh says, he has not let his anger affect the pride he takes in his job. At any rate, it won't last long. Having been rehired only on a short-term basis, he is to be laid off again in the coming weeks.

When people feel bitterness about their dismissal, it's a bad idea to return to their former employers, tempting though it may be, says Rosemary Haefner, vice-president of human resources for, a Chicago-based job site.

"Even though, practically, you do want a job, if you're feeling resentful about what happened … that's not going to improve" by going back, she says

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It's only natural to feel weird about stepping back into a former workplace - even when there is no animosity, she adds.

"Things are familiar. You know, the photocopier's still where the photocopier is, [but]a lot of things [may]have changed in the organization … and you kind of have to treat it as if you're brand new as well, so it is a bit awkward."

When an employee returns to a job that he or she quit, it can be the employer who feels resentment at having been jilted, Ms. Callocchia says.

Workers who regret splitting from their former companies should speak to the people they will be reporting to and address any concerns, she says.

Even though the company might be willing to rehire them, managers' reservations "could be in terms of, 'Well you left me, and now you want to come back,' " she says. "There's an element of flattery and an element of 'Why didn't you know how good you had it before? Why did you have to leave to find that out?' "

When both parties recognize they're better off together, however, reunions can end happily.

Pablo Fuchs, senior editor of Investment Executive in Toronto, left his job at the financial service publication in 2007 when another company offered him a higher position and significantly bigger paycheque.

He was reluctant to leave a job he enjoyed, but the new position was simply an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

It wasn't long before Mr. Fuchs realized he had made a mistake. Seeing that he had walked into a toxic work environment, he went back to his former job about three months later.

"I felt yeah, it was a bit of a step back in position," he acknowledges, noting he had to accept a pay cut upon his return. But the tradeoff was worth it. "It was just like putting on an old pair of shoes. It was just great to get back."

Mr. Fuchs says his boss and co-workers also were happy to see him return - a situation made possible since he did not burn his bridges and kept in touch after his departure.

Though he was disappointed his new opportunity didn't work out, he looks back on his short-lived affair with the other company with no regrets.

"If anything, I should say the experience taught me sometimes you don't know how good you have things until you don't have it any more."

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