WILKES-BARRE, PA—Len Neuwirth, a marketing analyst with Penn Packaging Corporation from 2000 to 2002, expressed slight disappointment Monday over his failure to cause a stir among former coworkers during his return visit.
"When I left Penn Packaging, everybody seemed really sorry to see me go," said Neuwirth, 32, who left last November to take a similar position at Allied Plastics. "I guess I kinda thought that when I finally made my first return visit after quitting, they'd all go nuts, and that maybe work would stop for a little while and stuff."
Neuwirth said he carefully planned his visit to be a surprise, hoping to maximize the impact of his triumphant return. Upon arriving at the office, Neuwirth asked new receptionist Darlene Cho, whom he had never met, to buzz Ted Arrington, one of his closest former coworkers. Neuwirth called Arrington's reaction "somewhat of a letdown."
"When Ted came out to the lobby, he seemed happy enough to see me, but he didn't scream or anything," Neuwirth said. "We chatted for a few minutes, which was nice, but I was sort of hoping he'd get all excited and go running off to find a bunch of other people, telling them, 'You're not going to believe who just walked in!'"
After Arrington excused himself to go back to work, Neuwirth spent several minutes hanging around the receptionist's area, making small talk with Cho while hoping for someone familiar to walk past. When no one did, he decided to head deeper into the office, where more underwhelming reactions awaited him.
"The only person who seemed excited was Shannon Ridgeley," Neuwirth said. "She gave me a big hug and asked me all these questions, but she's one of those super-chipper people who makes a big deal when the FedEx guy shows up."
Added Neuwirth: "I bet Andy [Dodd] would've given me more of a reaction. Too bad he was out sick."
Neuwirth said he was planning to take his former colleagues to lunch, but they had already placed an order for takeout.
"I came by the office at 11:30 so I could get people before they left for lunch," Neuwirth said. "Apparently, there was some sort of big project due, so everyone ordered in."
Throughout the visit, Neuwirth kept an eye out for remnants of his tenure there, only to find none.
"There used to be a funny sign I did for the kitchen, so I wanted to see if that was still up," Neuwirth said. "It was, but somebody put a sign over it reminding people to wash their coffee cups. Even gag gifts I'd given people over the years were gone. Oh, well, I guess you gotta keep the office clean."
Neuwirth spent much of his visit in the conference room, trying to catch up with former coworkers as they ate lunch.
"For most of the time, they just talked about this project they were working on," Neuwirth said. "I sat there listening, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Finally, after a half-hour, I decided to split."
Dr. Harvey Garrett, author of Coworkers For Life, said people often have unrealistically high expectations when returning to visit a former place of employment.
"In this day and age, few workplace environments foster the kind of social bonds that would cause employees to feel elation over the sight of an old coworker," Garrett said. "Most people are just cordial enough with their coworkers to make the situation tolerable. Since no strong bond is formed, it's hard for people to get worked up about somebody's return."
"I should know, because it happened to me when I dropped in on my old sociology-department colleagues at Colgate [University]," Garrett said. "I might as well have been the woman who worked in the faculty cafeteria."