The Boomerang Effect: Exploring Why Employees Return

The Great Resignation became a familiar buzz phrase as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. According to Harvard Business Review, five factors contributed to employee departures, including retirement, relocation, reconsideration of careers, reshuffling within industry, and reluctance to return to in-person jobs.

While almost 20 percent of our departing workforce last year cited a career change as their reason for leaving, Woodard & Curran is also familiar with the concept of reshuffling, defined by Harvard Business Review as the “moving among different jobs in the same sector, or even between sectors.” In the history of our company, we have seen many employees leave Woodard & Curran for experience from not only other consulting firms, but also public and private clients. And we have also seen many of those employees return. We talked to a few to share their experiences, and what brought them back to Woodard & Curran.

Coming Back for Career Growth

“I really enjoyed my role, the people, and the projects I encountered, but I was intrigued by the possibility of gaining a new perspective on the industry,” said Teri Demers, who worked as a project engineer for our wastewater service from 2014 to 2018. She left for a municipal position as a water and wastewater engineer for a Massachusetts town. “I had been working as a municipal consultant for 10 years at that point, and I thought it might be interesting to see the other side, working directly for a municipality.”

After a year and a half working in the public sector, she wanted to return to consulting and her first call was to Woodard & Curran. Demers is now a project manager in wastewater, and due to a move for family reasons, she works fully remote thanks in part to our flexible work arrangement policy.

“I worked with a lot of great people throughout my career, but nothing compares to the team culture I’ve experienced at Woodard & Curran,” she said. “I missed the people, the learning environment, and the opportunity for career growth. I’m given the autonomy to pursue challenges and participate in industry events and associations. The company is willing to invest in me.”

Returning for Mentorship

After a couple years working for a small consulting firm in the Chicago Area, Michael Cho joined Woodard & Curran in 2017. Based in our St. Charles, Missouri office as a wastewater engineer, he said, “It was an up-and-coming office. I knew it was a small team, but it sounded like the project manager there would be willing to mentor me and throughout my first two years, I experienced a lot of growth and had opportunities to work on two of our largest wastewater projects at the time.”

After nearly two years, Cho started missing out on having a consistent mentor when his colleagues’ and managers’ roles changed. In addition to feeling stalled in his position, he found himself driving home to Chicago almost weekly to be closer to family and friends. Cho said, “Going back and forth took a toll on me, so I started looking for new opportunities to be closer to Chicago.”

This was before Woodard & Curran shifted to a flexible work model as an outcome of the global pandemic. So, even though the idea of working remotely from Chicago was floated as a possibility, Cho took a job that allowed him to move closer to home.

The work was enjoyable, but Cho found that even though he was working for a larger company, he felt the job lacked community, growth opportunities, and his workload shifted from wastewater to drinking water projects. Knowing that the door to return to Woodard & Curran was left open when he departed in 2019, Cho reconnected with colleagues to see what opportunities were available. “I was very reassured I would be welcomed back, and everyone had my best interest in mind.”

After connecting with Brian Bzdawka, President of O&M, Cho returned to Woodard & Curran as a project engineer, working virtually this time. “I appreciated the fact that Brian kept in contact with me and kept asking when I would come back,” he said. “This option allows me to stay close to family and friends. Since returning, I’ve reached out for mentorship and joined the Paying Attention to Talent program. I’ve had a great experience coming back.”

Rediscovering Unique Project Challenges

When Courtney Flores started her master’s program in environmental engineering, she already had eight years of experience under her belt. She graduated in 2012 and spent three months looking for the right position. “The job market wasn’t that great,” she said. “Woodard & Curran hired me as a project engineer because they said I was the best candidate they found, even with no industrial wastewater experience. This job was my foray into industrial wastewater.”

Flores stuck with Woodard & Curran for two years, creating long-lasting professional connections, which is what brought her back to the company in November 2022 as a project manager. Flores said, “I left in 2014 to pursue more industrial wastewater work in the southeast. Woodard & Curran’s industrial wastewater group is strong now and we have a lot of work with less geographical silos. Many of the people who were here when I was in 2012 have reached out to say how excited they are to see me back, and I knew some of the newer members of the practice. The people in this group are really smart and we have a lot of great projects.”

Flores’ initial experience at Woodard & Curran set the tone for her career in industrial wastewater. She enjoys the unique challenges each project presents and how unique each facility is. She likes the fast-paced work, laboratory testing, and alternative project deliveries. With more of the company dispersed between offices and working remotely, she also feels her physical location and proximity to clients is not as much a problem when partnering with national and international manufacturers.

Reconsidering a Sense of Belonging

Becky Corbin was introduced to Woodard & Curran while working for a university’s in-house environmental health and safety office. “The company was often an exhibitor at particular conferences I attended and then a team of people came to do an audit where I worked,” she said. So, when she decided it was time for a career change, “Woodard & Curran looked like an interesting opportunity with really smart people who loved what they were doing.”

When she first joined the company in 2004, Corbin was our first fully virtual employee. She said, “While I collaborated with teams and spent time in different offices, after eight years, I started to wonder if I was missing something by not being part of an office; not being directly connected to colleagues.”

“As it turns out, more locally based work didn’t reveal that I was missing anything,” Corbin said, which prompted her return in 2015, serving now as a Senior Project Manager for Environmental Services. “I appreciate the employee first culture. People are given a lot of flexibility in the kinds of things they do and opportunity to find what suits them best. That may mean a colleague moving to a new geography or a different part of the business. Woodard & Curran is willing to accommodate if possible.”

Corbin is still a virtual employee, which continues to work for her because of all the connections she’s made with her colleagues. “I never feel isolated and I always have the support to be busy, successful, and feel connected,” she said, adding that, “It’s important now that hybrid workforces are the norm to be intentional about making sure people stay connected and feel a part of something bigger than whatever project they might be working on.”

Embracing Opportunities for Our Talent

We use our offboarding process to foster conversations with our departing employees. Some are leaving to explore a different segment of the industry or take on new challenges, while others are choosing to explore something completely different. Often, our Human Resources team helps maintain the connection to Woodard & Curran and leaves the door open for future opportunities.

“People want to go try different things, and we choose to see that as potential opportunity,” said Krista Marston, Talent Management Partner. “There seems to be something special about this organization that people come back to. I think it has to do with our culture being very people first, purpose driven.”

We recently shifted from an annual review process to performance enablement, creating a culture of continuous, positive, and constructive feedback to help our people excel. With employees able to receive real-time feedback from both managers and peers, they can easily identify areas for personal growth and development, seek support from leadership, and work toward career goals. This might guide employees to our Paying Attention to Talent mentorship program or continuing education. Additionally, our leadership is committed to the creation of a high-performing dispersed workforce in which geographic location is not necessarily tied to our physical offices across the country.

“This kind of flexibility opens the door to opportunities,” said Marston. “We hope this commitment continues to make Woodard & Curran an employer of choice and a best-in-class workplace that people keep wanting to come back to.”


Kathleen Welter Vice President Human Resources

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