What is the quiet comeback? It explains the phenomenon of people quitting their jobs, only to return to the same company, as a freelancer or contractor. This may be done for financial gain, or freedom, but it’s not always that simple.
We take a look at the latest ‘quiet’ term to trend, and speak to those who have done the quiet comeback themselves.
What Is a Quiet Comeback?
If you’ve never done a quiet comeback yourself, you’ve almost certainly worked at a place where it has happened. It’s when someone leaves a full time position at a company, only to return as a freelancer or contractor. In some cases, they might even be performing the same role.
What makes it ‘quiet'? Unlike joining a new company in a full time role, with onboarding, team lunches, or a shout out at the next team meeting, freelancers usually aren’t regarded as part of a core team, so forego all the usual pomp and ceremony. In fact, if someone leaves your company and returns to help out another part of the business, chances are they'll slip under the radar, and you won’t even know about it.
The last couple of years has seen a huge increase in the number of terms with the ‘quiet’ prefix, from quiet quitting, to quiet hiring, and even quiet promotions. Quiet comebacks are the next natural progression, and with more Americans freelancing than ever, it could be your next career move.
The Rise of Freelance
The quiet comeback has its roots in the rise of the freelancer. More of us are doing it than ever before, with 73 million freelancers in the US in 2023, predicted to rise to over 90 million in the next few years. It's predicted that if the current freelance rates keep climbing, over half all US workers will be freelancing to some degree by 2027.
Of these millions of freelancers, some will be be doing the quiet comeback. It only makes sense that if you're going to strike it out as a freelancer, you'll be tempted to work for a company you already know, working with systems you're familiar with, and dealing with people you've already built up a good rapport with.
It can be lucrative too. Many of those we spoke to who had done the quiet comeback said that they were able to negotiate much higher fees than they could when they were on the payroll.
Real Quiet Comeback Experiences
One of those we spoke to, Barry Maher of Barry Maher & Associates, told us that he once worked for a Fortune 500 company, and received a call to say that there had been an accounting mistake, and that the company were overpaying him by $1,000 a month. He was given the ultimatum of paying back over $20,000 that the company said he owed them, or being laid off. Maher, who felt that the salary he was receiving was what he had initially agreed to, opted to be laid off.
However, the story doesn't end there. As Maher told us:
‘I returned to working for myself, consulting in the same industry. Much to my delight, I was soon hired as a consultant by another branch of the same company at $250 per hour rather than the $50 they’d been “overpaying” me before.'
The move also means that workers can play to their strengths, and not worry about other aspects of a role that don't appeal to them. As Anastasios Moulios, founder of BeardLong, told us, ‘As an employee, I often had to work on projects that were not necessarily aligned with my strengths or interests. As a contractor/freelancer, I have been able to choose the projects that I am passionate about and that I know I can deliver great results on.'
Similarly, Kit Warchol, founder of the content agency, Nunc Studio says, ‘I was tired of being in meetings all day, and I realized that I'd advanced so far up the chain in my profession that the only way I'd get back to creative projects and writing work was to opt out of full-time content work.' Kit now runs a successful agency, and has brought onboard colleagues that she has worked with previously.
But what do companies think of quiet comebacks? Of those that we spoke to, the view was that it was positive. Companies are able to find freelancers/contracters with a firm understanding of processes, systems and clients, and get to work straight away.
Dennis Shirshikov, Head of Growth at Awning.com, said ‘As аn еmployеr, I hаve rehired fоrmer еmployееs who chose tо еxplorе nеw opportunities, оnly tо return with а fresh рersрective аnd vаluаble skills. Тheir exрeriences еlsеwhеrе mаde thеm even morе vаluаble аssets tо our orgаnizаtion.'
Jaden Oh, CMO of Traffv, agrees – ‘As an employer, I have employed a previous employee in this way because I know their work ethic, and it saves time in the onboarding process.'
There are fewer overhead costs or comittments for businesses hiring freelancers, too, giving them more flexibility during a challenging economic time.
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Could the Quiet Comeback Work for You?
When we spoke to people who had made a quiet comeback, most told us that the reasons were twofold – more flexibility, and better pay. On paper, this makes sense – workers can have more say over the projects they work on and the time they dedicate to them, and they're free to set their own fees.
However, quitting your job and coming back as a freelancer or contractor isn't for everyone.
For one, the money may appear better initially, but those that work for themselves may have additional expenses to cover, including everything from insurance and retirement savings to travel, as well as smaller perks like lunches. It all adds up, so it's worth breaking down what your actual take home wage would be.
You'll also need to be very self motivated, and prepared to seek new opportunities when/if those at your current company dry up.
It's also important to get reassurances that there will be work available to you at your company should you quit. Not every company will be receptive to hiring previous employees – Rhett Stubbendeck, CEO of LeverageRX, told us that doing so can create a ‘barrier between the two sides, which leads to tension and loss of productivity.'
However, if you've done the math, are motivated, and have reassurances that your company will take you back on this basis, it is well worth considering, and there's plenty of positivity about the movement from those who have done it.
If your next move at work is a quiet comeback, you could well find it gives you something you won't want to keep quiet about.