What's your problem?

Due to an ill-judged love affair at work, I handed in my resignation, as the bitterness between me and my former partner was causing such a bad atmosphere.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I've since learnt that the person with whom I had the affair has also resigned, and that she has taken a job elsewhere. I am still searching for work. Would it be acceptable for me to go back to my boss and ask if he could overlook my resignation letter and reinstate me? The company has started searching for my replacement, but has not found anyone yet.

A: I'm puzzled by your diffidence. It's not for me to comment on the ill-judged love affair, and I've no idea which of you was the more to blame for its fractious end. But from a work point of view, you seem to have behaved honourably. It was you who chose, in the interests of office harmony and with no new job to go to, to resign.

So the possibility exists that your ex-boss would be delighted to welcome you back and that you'd be delighted to accept. It would be daft to leave that possibility unexplored.

Yes, there's a risk. Your boss might not have been totally distraught when you decided to leave and is now looking forward to finding a more satisfactory replacement. You might find a formal rebuff pretty painful.

But you can lessen this risk. Don't approach him formally or in writing. Simply try to engineer a meeting, preferably out of the office, on some other pretext. It honestly doesn't matter how flimsy the pretext and if he sees straight through it; there are times when an implicit conspiracy to keep things unsaid are in everyone's interest - and this is one of them.

If he agrees to meet you, that's encouraging in itself. Within 15 minutes, over a drink or a coffee, the fact that you've still to find a job will have surfaced; and how he responds to this information will tell you everything you need to know. If he would genuinely like to have you back, it's inconceivable that, in however roundabout a fashion, he wouldn't somehow intimate it. But if no such hint emerges, you may safely close that option altogether. Return to your flimsy pretext and leave him with a smile. It will still be painful for you, but at least you will not have embarrassed your boss or humiliated yourself.

What you mustn't do is keep the thought alive in your head while making no attempt to resolve it. My instinct sees a happy ending here.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the both Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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