Whatever the reason for your career break, returning to work can be daunting after a considerable time away. It is even harder when the gap has spanned many years, and you have gone through a significant personal change.
Parenting, caring for a sick family member or supporting a partner with their career, which may have entailed geographical moves nationally or internationally, can mean it might have been years since you were focusing on your career.
What many companies don’t realise is that there is real untapped talent in this area of the job market which employers could take advantage of if they adjusted their processes to attract, support and develop previously successful individuals.
As recruiters, we have witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by returners looking to get back on their career path, and the need for employers to make the transition more accessible in their policies and initiatives.
Staying at Home vs Going Back to Work
The term ‘career break’ was once synonymous with women taking time out of their working life to raise a family. And while this is still the case for many, there are 1 million more working mothers in the UK ₁ than 20 years ago.
The trend of stay-at-home fathers which began in 1993 and climbed steadily year on year is now also in decline, after peaking in 2017 ₂. More people than ever are using childcare services, as parents realise that they don’t have to choose between being a parent and having a successful career.
These days, career breaks are taken by both men and women, and for various reasons. But what challenges do they face if they decide to return to the world of work?
Challenges Returners Face
Returning to work after a career break can often be more daunting than when you first started out - there is a distinct pressure to prove to your colleagues that you haven’t lost your ‘game’ and that you’re not at a disadvantage.
Historically, women have faced more issues in the workplace when it comes to sexism and gender bias. A 2018 report found that 42% of young mothers said they had experienced maternity discrimination upon returning to work.
And it’s not just women. Men who take career breaks also report problems such as being discriminated for having an employment gap - in his Forbes article ₃ ‘Real Men Don’t Need Work-Life Balance’, Tanvi Gautam refers to the male career break as ‘career suicide’.
What Opportunities Are Companies Missing?
Failure to accommodate returners can have a significant financial impact. The amount of lost revenue in neglecting to help women returners alone in the UK is approximately £1.7bn – this number increases when you consider male returners too.
Returners often feel as though their career break has put them at a disadvantage and this is borne out by the stats. Out of the 427,000 women in the UK on a career break, around 249,000 are likely to re-enter the workplace in lower-skilled roles. ₄
So, are companies missing out on when they marginalise career-break returners? Apart from practical skills, there is a wealth of life experience that career break employees can bring back with them.
Whether your career break involved raising a young family, caring for a family member through ill health or a move overseas, career returners often bring with them:
Confidence and maturity that comes from experiencing life events
Strong organisational skills
An increased desire to succeed
What Can Organisations Do to Help Returners?
Organisations who introduce policies and initiatives to accommodate returners back into work will benefit hugely.
Some employers have already realised the opportunities they are missing out on by ignoring this significant demographic: earlier this year the Times showcased the top 50 employers ₅ who are striving to help women returners back into work.
However, we are still a long way from career breaks for both genders being the norm.
Returner programmes, sometimes referred to as a ‘returnships’, are offered by a company specifically to help professionals back into senior and corporate roles after taking a career break.
Returnships are open to both men and women; however the majority of applications come from women as they are still the most likely partner to give up work to support their family – 89% of all adults who are currently out of work because they are at home, either raising or caring for their family, are women.
Actionable Policies and Initiatives
In 2017, the government, in partnership with Timewise, released guidelines ₆ to advise employers on how best to accommodate returners back into work.
From the guidelines, employers are advised to focus on the following -
Organising, positioning and engagement – the company must be fully aware of the real benefits to employees and employers alike in attracting returners – few companies are, and they are missing out. Supporting returners broadens your pipeline, strengthens your brand and is a cost-effective way of recruiting.
Attracting and recruiting returners – The language used in your job advert should be appealing to returners, it should highlight shared values and a welcoming and inclusive environment, provide as much information as possible and keep the recruitment process simple as the assessment process can be daunting for those who have not applied for a role for a number of years.
Creating a supportive organisational culture – Senior buy-in is critical for returner programmes to succeed - establishing a culture of inclusion from the top down. Additionally, hiring managers need to understand the nuances of hiring returners, and visible role models and mentors should be available to help returners make the transition.
A strong returner framework – Include return to work assessments, trial periods and allow for some flexibility with induction periods as some returning employees may take slightly longer to achieve the required level of performance than other employees.
Flexibility – Return programmes need to be sufficiently flexible – Timewise found that fewer than one in 10 quality paying jobs (20k plus) offer flexible working. Can you offer work from home options? Can the finish and start times be flexible? Can work be provided on a part-time basis?
For companies, implementing these ideas will see a return on investment. Your staff will be able to refresh their skills and knowledge and feel supported through their re-integration, enabling them to achieve the satisfaction of regaining their identity and contributing to successful company growth.
For returners, an inclusive company will offer them the opportunity to flex their business muscles, feel valued and inspire them to take their career to the next level.
About Martin Veasey Talent Solutions
At Martin Veasey, we have been working with blue-chip and SME businesses for over 35 years, both in the UK and around the world.
We are an independent consultancy company with highly qualified staff, including many degree and Masters educated consultants, with memberships of professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the British Psychological Society.
We have unique expertise in hiring for senior roles in Board & Senior, Supply Chain & Logistics, Purchasing & Procurement, Manufacturing & Engineering, Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences, Sales, Human Resources, plus many more.
If you are looking to work with a highly accomplished recruiting partner, you can call us on 01905381320 or get in contact today.