Lebron James and the Case of the Prodigal Employee
If you’re a basketball fan (and even if you aren’t), you’ve undoubtedly heard the news broadcasted—or shall I say published?—last week: Lebron James has decided to return “home” to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For anyone who doesn’t know the back story, in 2010 after seven years with the Cavaliers (the first team James was drafted to right out of high school) James announced that he would be leaving his hometown of the Northeast Ohio region to join the Miami Heat.
And although this sounds like an everyday occurrence in the NBA, this decision and its aftermath was far from common.
I remember watching the news of Cavaliers fans’ reactions as they watched James announce that he was leaving. People ran screaming, some crying and many even burned the self-proclaimed king’s jersey.
Not to mention that Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, wrote a letter expressing his disgust and anger with James’ decision.
For years, James was deemed a traitor, often booed at games and his reputation was dragged through the mud by disgruntled Cavaliers fans.
They called James disloyal, a king who had left his thrown, no king at all and declared that he was selfish in that he left Cleveland to pursue a championship with the Heat.
The fans (and Gilbert) felt abandoned.
Yet now, four years later, James has decided to return home and the fans—like the prodigal son, an LA Times story compares—are welcoming their beloved basketball player back into their hearts.
Although this NBA tale seems far removed from “real life”—that is the majority of us who aren’t getting paid millions to play basketball—this scenario is actually very relevant to the business world.
There are many ways one can look at this James-Cavaliers-Heat triangle, but let’s go with the Times’ comparison to the Prodigal son. In the biblical tale, a young boy asks for his inheritance prematurely from his father. He then takes it, squanders it partying and having fun (I am paraphrasing, of course), and after all of the money has dried up, the boy decides to return home.
When his father sees him coming down the road, instead of being angry at his son’s actions, the father runs to his child and embraces him, welcoming him back home.
If we relate this story to business and the current James situation, we have:
Lebron James—the prodigal employee
James, or the employee, works for Company A for many years. Yet the worker doesn’t feel as if he or she is growing at the company or accomplishing what he or she set out to do with the individual’s career.
The employee sees Company B where employees are flourishing and their careers are going in the direction James desires for his/hers to go. And Company B is interested in hiring a worker like James. So, after much deliberation, James decides to part ways with Company A and take a position at Company B (which I should note is Company A’s competitor).
Dan Gilbert/Cavaliers fans—Company A
Company A and its employees are disgusted by James’ actions. They 1) cannot believe the worker would desert the business after working there for so long and 2) totally disagree with how James announced his/her departure.
Company A’s CEO writes a memo bad mouthing James and sends it to every worker in the business. The employees completely shun their former colleague, removing him from all their social media networks and posting negative comments about the employee online.
They feel abandoned and that James is a disloyal worker who selfishly left their employer to pursue his/her own “best interests.”
Four years later…
James, the former employee of Company A, has worked at Company B for awhile and was extremely successful there. Yet, for whatever reasons, the worker now desires to return to Company A and benefit that business as well.
Although we’re currently seeing how this scenario has played out for the real-life James, what about a worker who finds him/herself in this situation? And the employer the person desires to return to?
On one end, you have a worker who was treated terribly, even by the company’s leadership, because he/she decided to leave the job. The worker’s reputation was tarnished while many of his/her former colleagues made it a point to publicly humiliate the worker.
And on the other end, you have a business that sees a worker jump ship when things seemingly got bad. The worker showed he/she wasn’t fully committed to the business, and now—Company A speculates—that things aren’t looking so good anymore at Company B, the worker wants his/her old position again.
Many people have their theories on why James decided to “come home” and whether or not Cleveland fans should accept the move or remember his “betrayal.” But is it just as easy to say what is right and wrong when this scenario plays out in corporate America?
What do you think, Recruiter.com readers? In the case of the prodigal employee, should the worker even desire to return home to his/her former company after being treated so terribly upon leaving? And even if the person decides to go back, should the employer accept a former worker who left in such a manner?