Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Should You Go Back to Your Old Job or Company? Here’s How to Decide

person in a green shirt and glasses thinking hard with the face tilted up on the diagonal and hand to their chin, while the other hand holds an open book, against a blue background
Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

Deciding to take a new job is a job: It requires a lot of work. The process often involves doing some soul-searching, making endless pros and cons lists, asking all your friends what they think—and that’s not even including the resume tailoring, the online applications, and the multiple rounds of interviews! So when that new job doesn’t turn out to be what we’d hoped…well, that’s hard.

To succinctly describe “that feeling when you start a new job and realize, with either surprise or regret, that the position or company is very different from what you were led to believe,” Muse cofounder and CEO Kathryn Minshew coined the term “Shift Shock.” A Muse survey conducted in early 2022 found that, of more than 2,500 respondents, 72% said they’ve experienced Shift Shock and 48% would try to get their old job back if they felt Shift Shock at a new company. A 2022 Lever report similarly found that 52% of employees would consider returning to a previous employer.

As a decision coach, I encourage my clients to take leaps all the time—to try new jobs, new careers, new ways of working. But once in a while a new job isn’t all it was cracked up to be. And that’s when the question arises: Should you go back to your old job or employer?

I’ve helped dozens of people in this situation decide whether or not to return to their previous companies, and I’ve learned that this choice is just as fraught as the original decision to leave, with just as many complicating factors. Below are eight essential steps to help you decide whether to return to the familiar or plunge forward into the unknown.

Ask yourself: Did I give this new job and company a fair shake?

OK, maybe they do things differently, but that isn’t always bad. The length of time you should give a new job differs in each situation, but unless the job is a complete 180 from what you expected and/or it’s a situation that’s negatively impacting your mental health, I’d say give it at least two or three months. And try your best! Sometimes situations are what we make them, and if you make an honest effort to succeed at the job, it can sometimes turn into a job you’re happy with—even if it’s not what you expected.

Don’t blame yourself.

We have a tendency to berate ourselves when a decision doesn’t result in the outcome we hoped for. “If only I’d chosen the other option,” becomes a constant refrain in our brains. But remember: We can’t predict the future! There’s a big difference between what we can control (the decision) and what we can’t (the outcome).

There’s no way you could have known in advance your new boss would be a control freak (they seemed so normal in the interviews!), or that the big project they promised you’d be working on hadn’t actually gotten funding yet, or that the company would suddenly decide a hybrid setup means no less than four days a week in the office. The outcome—that you don’t like your new job—was a result of factors that were out of your hands. So give yourself a break.

If you made a decision that seemed right at the time, using the information that was available to you then, there’s nothing to blame yourself for. Release that feeling of guilt and move on!

Pretend you have a time machine and look to your future.

Take an hour to sit down and think about what you’d like your life to look like in five years. Focus on career here—think about the type of work you’d like to be doing, the title you’d like to have, the kind of company you’d like to be working for, and the money you’d like to be earning. Or maybe you want to have transitioned into being your own boss by then, starting a business, or going freelance. Once you’ve got this all written down, take a dispassionate look at your old job. Is that job going to get you to your goals? If not, going back might not be the right choice.

Now use the “time machine” to review your past.

When I’m coaching people through a job change, they typically tell me all about the things they’re unhappy with at their current place of work, from managers who won’t manage to penny-pinching CEOs. If we decide it’s time for them to move on, I advise them to write all those things down and keep that list somewhere accessible. That’s because the second you leave something behind, you begin to forget the details, and we all tend to romanticize an old situation when the new one isn’t working out. (See: Every person who’s ever looked up their ex on social media after a breakup.)

So take a few minutes and make a list of all the things you didn’t like about that previous job. Was the commute too long? Did your coworkers try to coerce you into their multi-level marketing schemes? Did your boss micromanage you? Is the company mission in conflict with your values? There were reasons you left this job. Take a fresh look at what they were and see if you’re still tempted to go back.

Do your research: Is anything different now?

What’s changed at the old job or company since you left? Perhaps the undermining coworker finally got fired. Or maybe someone in a more senior role on your team quit or was promoted, and you think you could negotiate to return with a higher title. Has there been a big enough change that your old job might be substantially different now—in a good way? If so, going back becomes a viable option.

Examine your options—all your options.

We, as humans, love the familiar! So now that you see the new job isn’t for you, it will be very tempting to seek out what you’re used to. You know you can do your old job, you’re already friends with the people there, and it’s the comfortable, easy choice.

But what if you took a beat? Thanks in large part to the global pandemic and the Great Resignation, we’ve seen some changes in what workers are demanding and what employers are offering. Before you run back to the familiar, get back on the job search. What are your options besides staying put or going back to your old position? Are there stretch jobs it’s worth applying to? Is there a different opening at your old company that would be a step up or give you an opportunity to work on a different team? Take another look at that list you made of where you want to be in five years. Which next step could get you to your five-year goal?

Look at your reasons for going back. The real reasons.

If you’re leaning toward going back to your old job, try to figure out why. Is it because the thought of job hunting again exhausts you before you’ve even begun? Is it because you hate interviewing? Is it because you’re afraid you might end up in another job you don’t like? Try to identify the real reasons you favor this choice; then decide whether or not you like those reasons.

Going back to a job or company is, in the abstract, a neutral choice; it’s not objectively good or bad (unless, of course, your old employer was discriminatory or abusive—in that case you probably don’t need me to tell you not to go back). If you return, you want to make sure it’s for the right reasons—like you realized the old job suits your lifestyle really well, or you decided having great colleagues is more important than getting into the C-suite, or you discovered, after trying it out, that the kind of job you thought you wanted isn’t actually that great.

Make the decision.

Some people return to their old jobs or employers and are content when they do. They made a change and realized it wasn’t for them, so they course correct by going back. It’s more common than you think!

But with the majority of my clients in this situation, it doesn’t work out quite like that. Many more people come back to a familiar job, luxuriate in the feeling of relief for a month or two—and then realize that the factors that caused them to look for something new haven’t changed. In some cases, they were driven away from the old job or company by negative factors, like coworkers who constantly complained or a promotion that never materialized. Other times they were pulled toward a new job by the promise of a big pay or title bump. But either way, things didn’t change just because they spent some time away. So if you were unhappy in your job before, it’s very likely you’ll be unhappy there again.

If you’re considering a return to an old job or company, I encourage you to think carefully. Go through these eight steps, ask yourself the hard questions, and open your mind to all your potential options. There might be more out there than you think.