It’s time to properly support workplace Returners

By Claire McCartney, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser, CIPD

The focus of both employers and the Government on supporting workplace Returners has been growing in recent months. Workplace returners represent valuable talent for organisations and it makes sense that employers should focus on how best to both support and actively retain them.

The Government Equalities Office Returners’ fund programme has recently announced a grant programme of up to 1.5 million for organisations to run projects that support returners back into employment. This will be aimed specifically at creating:
• New job opportunities within the private sector and targeted employment sectors
• Opportunities that could not otherwise be established by the market
• Opportunities that address specific barriers for returners that can be replicated at scale.

Whether employees are returning to work following maternity, parental or carers’ leave, redundancy, sickness or a voluntary career break, it can take time to adjust back to working after a prolonged period of absence. My own personal experience of returning to work after having two children underlined the importance of having proper support to ease the transition back into the workplace and help me get up to speed much more quickly. There are a number of steps organisations can take to support returners, including:

Flexible and agile working practices
Parents or Carers often need greater flexibility built into their contracts – especially in the short-term. Being flexible on working from home or start and finish times on particular days can make a significant difference to their ability to do the best job that they can.

Employee support or networking systems
Creating employee support systems or networking sessions can also help. This can support Returners to build relationships with colleagues as quickly as possible and find co-workers who might be in a similar situation.

Tailored up-skill sessions
Returners need to be given the resources to get up to speed quickly. It’s therefore important to talk to Returners about where there might be gaps in their knowledge/ skill-sets and where they might need tailored upskill sessions.

Contracts/ Interim positions
Interim positions can be a useful strategy for Returners to transition back into the workplace. The roles provide a chance for more senior professionals to ‘test the waters’ and see how employment fits with their lifestyle and skillset following a break. It is also a great way for organisations to access the wealth of skills and experience offered by Returners throughout focused projects/ timescales.

The CIPD have developed a ‘Back to Work’ microsite of resources to help those returning to work after a period of absence, including research, guides, podcasts, tools as well as CIPD member resources such as employment law information, information on financial assistance and articles to help make the transition back into work easier and less stressful. To access the resources, see:

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  • There is definitely more to be done by employers in making the transition back into work smooth for workplace returners.  Certainly a tailored approach is needed depending on the individual's situation, their role and how long they have been away from the workplace.  

    As someone involved with digital L&D it strikes me that we need to rethink access to digital learning - typically organisations will suspend LMS access when someone leaves their organisation, and if they return they will get access only when they actually step through the door again.  Similarly new hires don't normally get LMS access before they start.  Maybe a more flexible approach could see different levels of access to digital learning for job applicants, those waiting to start work with a company, those who have left but might return in future, those recently made redundant, those unsuccessful in a recent application but still part of a talent pool for future vacancies?