Invest in those returning to work: They offer a wealth of untapped talent

Neeha Khurana
Returning to work after a career break can be intimidating, with people often feeling unsure about where to look for job opportunities or how to manage the application process. (Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch)

Today we operate in a fast paced, ever changing work environment fuelled in many respects by advances in technology.

As a result, the lines between our work and personal lives are blurring and our approach to work has to constantly adapt to our changing lifestyles.

For those people who’ve taken time off to raise children, care for a family member, or who have taken an extended break for other reasons, a return to the workplace can be daunting.

This is where companies can help. By supporting prospective returners through their journey back to working life, and instilling in them the confidence and motivation to return, employers can tap a wealth of diverse, “lost” talent.

Support is key

Returning to work after a career break can be intimidating, with people often feeling unsure about where to look for job opportunities or how to manage the application process. But there are a number of ways that prospective employers can lend their support.

For example, career workshops can provide a forum for giving practical advice on how to search for jobs, update CVs, identify transferable skills and manage interview and assessment processes.

Once in the work environment, companies can help establish a support system for returners, introducing them to people they can meet with regularly to discuss their professional and personal development as well as connecting them to employee networks.

If your workplace doesn’t have one already, creating an alumni network of past returners is another great way for people to share their experiences and recognise that they are not alone in their ambition to return to work.

Build confidence

Time out from the workplace can often result in a loss of “career identity” and the feeling that knowledge or technical skills are not up to scratch. This is often down to a lack of confidence on the part of the returner which can easily be restored through a robust and supportive returner programme.

Companies should be clear to the returner that they are joining a team or an organisation that values the fresh perspective and skills they bring. Build their confidence by exposing them to opportunities to demonstrate their existing skills and expertise, balancing this with support and encouragement to engage in workplace development opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge. Both formal programmes and work-shadowing are effective ways of getting them quickly up to speed and adding further value.

Striking a balance

It’s important for the employer to be aware of a returner’s personal commitments too – for example looking after young children or an elderly relative – and to be open to discussions with the returner on how they will best manage their time and energy.

Employers should be understanding of existing commitments and work together with their employees to agree how work deliverables can be successfully achieved. Regular communication will help to ensure that arrangements are successful and will enable further adjustments as required.

Companies should try to encourage flexibility where possible – if a returner has family commitments, would it work for them to remote into the office once a week? How much of their role requires face-to-face interactions? How can you use technology to enable more flexible working?

Neeha Khurana is international head of talent at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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