People take time away from work for all sorts of reasons. There are people who remain an employee during their time away, for example when they go on maternity leave, take other family leave, are on long term sick leave or other long term absence. Then there are those who leave employment altogether for a potentially longer "career break".
The Government, in its drive to grow the economy, has identified a need to tackle so-called “economic inactivity”: the proportion of people who are neither working nor looking for work. As you have no doubt read in the press, this is something which has risen since the start of the Covid pandemic. One of the ways the Government intends to respond to this “economic inactivity” is by encouraging employers to help people return to work after a career break.
Government guidance for employers
With this in mind, following the Spring Budget, the Government published Employer guidance: helping people return to work, to assist employers supporting those returning from a career break. Although it specifically focuses on someone who left paid employment to take on a caring responsibility, the guidance may also be useful for people who have taken time out of work for health, relocation or other purposes. We have summarised the main points highlighted in the guidance below.
In addition to this, as part of the Budget the Government has announced a “returnerships” initiative to support over 50s specifically to develop skills and gain experience to help them back to work.
Why may returners need support?
The guidance acknowledges that returners face many difficulties on returning to work, which may mean they could benefit from additional support. The potential difficulties include things like:
- Recruitment biases against candidates without recent experience,
- A lack of flexible job opportunities,
- A loss of confidence,
- Needing to refresh sector specific knowledge, or
- Ongoing care responsibilities.
Return to work programmes
The guidance provides suggestions for setting up a specific "returners programme", of which it identifies two main options:
- Supported hiring: bringing returners directly into permanent roles and offering support such as training, coaching and peer support networks.
- Returnships: fixed-term contracts that offer competitive pay and the same additional support.
The Government stresses that return to work programmes can be used in organisations in all sectors and of all sizes, though it acknowledges that the way that support is provided may vary depending on the organisation’s size and resources.
Even if an organisation is unable to provide a full return to work programme, making small changes to recruitment practices, along with raising awareness as to the barriers faced by returners, can have a big impact on the number of returners applying for vacancies and succeeding when back at work.
Why support returners?
Irrespective of why someone has had a career break, returning to work after a period of absence can be a daunting experience and can take time to adjust back to the workplace. Providing opportunities to access work and proper support once someone is in work will help with the recruitment and retention of returners.
For employers, supporting such individuals properly can bring benefits in turn, including accessing an experienced and high-calibre talent pool, tackling skills shortages and improving diversity and inclusion.
To improve the likelihood of a successful return to work programme, the guidance provides various examples of best practice, including:
- Raising awareness of returners and getting buy-in from across the organisation,
- Enhancing and promoting flexible working policies,
- Avoiding unnecessary requirements that might discourage returners, such as asking for recent work experience or references,
- Advertising vacancies as suitable for returners, and part time if possible,
- Asking for job history in terms of years of experience rather than dates of previous roles,
- Considering people’s individual needs and career goals,
- Providing additional training and support such as coaching or sponsorship,
- Sharing plans, insights, and induction materials with line managers and employees.
With special thanks to Simran Patel, a paralegal in the employment team.
If you require further information about anything covered in this blog, please contact Kathleen Heycock or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, May 2023