How can employers support people returning to work?
Returning to work after time out can be a stressful period for Employees as they adapt to a change in routine. Whether you’re supporting someone returning from maternity leave, a period of sickness or unemployment, there are certain things you can do to make the transition easier and help people to blossom.
Investing time to help Employees back into work has multiple advantages: It creates an atmosphere where people feel appreciated and, on a personal level, it can be satisfying to get someone back on their feet. With this in mind, my first tip for managers in this situation is to communicate regularly with the person involved.
Be considerate of the pressures Employees have outside of work and voice your desire to help. In a survey of more than 1,000 women run by MMB Magazine, less than a fifth felt confident about returning to work after maternity leave. However, statistics like this can easily be avoided by staying in touch with staff regularly.
Keep talking to people when they’re not at work. If you have Employees on maternity leave, for example, keeping in touch days will mean they continue to feel connected to their team. Then, when people return, set clear objectives for them to achieve in their role and hold meetings with the opportunity for feedback.
Many Employees returning to work are highly experienced, and by remaining positive about the value they bring, you’ll be aiding staff retention. In fact, why not go a step further and assign mentors for returnees? Try following the trend set by UK investment banks, who are offering ‘returnships’ for people who have had career breaks.
When supporting staff, it pays to be flexible. Sickness absence is estimated to cost the UK economy around £15 billon per year, but focusing on the tasks people are able to complete - and getting them back to work earlier, on reduced hours for example - can be beneficial for Employers and Employees.
Consider a phased return and be flexible about the hours people work. In some cases, a change in duties may be appropriate. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show an increase in the number of Employees aged 25 to 34 who are taking sick leave due to mental health. To truly support people, you should always be prepared to adapt your plans.
Mental health charity Mind has a helpful list of suggestions, including extra help with managing workloads, providing quiet rooms for time out and changes to break times. Introducing initiatives like these show that you’re committed to Employees’ wellbeing, and that you can be approached to talk about health issues.
Most of all, it’s important to seek advice. For a long period of absence, occupational health, your HR team and the Employees’ line manager should all be consulted in order to write a back to work plan which can be regularly reviewed.
If possible, think about the incentives you can offer your staff to help them do their job each day. It’s interesting to see that mums at Amazon - a global company which offers a wide range of other work perks - are pushing for help with emergency child care. What would your Employees vote for if offered the choice?
Having worked in recruitment for over 20 years, helping people back to work is a real passion of mine. To this end, I’ve worked with employment charity and social enterprise Aspire Oxford to write a white paper about open and inclusive recruitment. I know that when you support people, you create loyal, productive Employees in return, so remember to be patient and assess everyone’s situation individually. Developing a caring and flexible work policy will benefit everyone involved.