Managing returners to work.

There are many reasons why an employee might have a career break and therefore be in a position of returning to work. The obvious example is women who have been on maternity leave, although it is now equally as possible that fathers will take extended leave through the Shared Parental Leave option. However, it is also common for those who have had a long term absence or a career break to be a carer or for another life circumstance could find themselves as a ‘returner’ to the workplace.

In the 15 years the Clear Company has been auditing businesses through a diversity and inclusion lens, it has been rare to find an organisation that manages returners well. Those organisations who do have a policy and process, often have gaps in the support needed. The confidence and capability of managers is often also a challenge.

2 women looking at a computer screen

1 – Keeping in touch:

When an employee packs their desk away and say’s goodbye for a number of months or even longer, there are usually promises of staying in touch – however, most returners report that they do not have the level of contact required with some not receiving the most basic communications. It is straightforward to organise for those absent from the business to be sent copies of key communications, however it is surprising how many organisations do not do so.

Where possible, manager should have regular calls or face to face meetings, the employee should be invited to team meetings – by Skype if not in person. Plus an invite to any conferences or events. Of course this should be optional, as it may not be possible for a breastfeeding mum or for someone who is unwell – but the message of being always welcome can be as important as the actual attendance.

Particular attention needs to be paid to absent employees during any change programmes – a restructure, change in leadership or new system implementation should all be communicated as thoroughly with the absent employee as those in the workplace.

2 – Re-Induction:

Even when good communications have been kept in place, there will still be many changes that have happened over a period of months, so expecting the returner to immediately step back into the workplace is unrealistic. A mini version of the standard induction programme can be easily adapted as a ‘returners re-induction’ to ensure that time is given to bring the employee back up to speed in the first few days and weeks.

3 – Review adjustments that can help

Whatever the reason for the extended period of leave, it is very common for the returner to have a reduced level of confidence. Managing wellbeing through the first few days and weeks is incredibly important to how well an employee settles back into the workplace. Consideration to a phased return to work can help with this.

As well as pro-actively supporting the returner with their wellbeing needs, it is also crucial to re-visit any adjustments that the individual may need. Some of the adjustments needed include access to breastfeeding facilities, access to workplace counselling or a mentor to support them through a major life change.

Flexible working is the most common adjustment requested with many returners needing a different work approach. For some this maybe part time hours but for others it maybe a change to start and finish times, or the ability to work from home. Flexibility is one of the most attractive factors for employees and embracing this, particularly for returners, can deliver immense business value.

4 -The role of the manager

The manager is pivotal to the success of an employee returning after a break. A manager who has communicated well, stayed in touch, planned a re-induction and arranged for any adjustments needed will support the employee to be as productive as possible.

Equipping managers with the skills to manage absent employees, as well as changes such as flexible working is key for organisations who want to be more inclusive. Simply providing a process and guidance is helpful but unlikely to result in the support needed. Training managers to ensure they are confident in their actions plus providing access to further advice as needed is more likely to achieve success.

The successful management of returners will ensure that you retain talent and ensure employees can be as productive as possible at work – a great return for a minimal amount of investment.

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