Momentum grows around return-to-work schemes

Briefing july-aug

In June 2016, global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills launched a return-to-work scheme aimed specifically at female lawyers who have a minimum of three years’ legal experience and are looking to re-enter the sector after a career break of up to 20 years. In partnership with OnRamp, the one-year fellowship, which will be delivered in both the UK and Australia, will give female employees on-the-job training and support.

Return-to-work schemes are increasingly becoming a competitive benefit offering, targeted not only at women who are considering a career break for family reasons, but also for fathers, carers and older individuals looking to re-join the workforce. Assisting with employee attraction, retention and engagement, a successful return-to-work scheme can prove to be a cost-effective measure that keeps highly qualified and talented employees in the workplace.

In April 2016, EY announced its 12-week EY Reconnect initiative, which looks to encourage 12 applicants with manager-level experience and above to re-join the workplace after a career break of two to 10 years. The scheme will commence across the UK in September 2016.

Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 12-week return-to-work scheme, Back to Business, includes a week-long induction, as well as a dedicated manager who will help returning staff hit objectives and work-related goals.

In addition, Lloyds Banking Group increased the size of its returners programme from 15 participants in 2015 to 40 in 2016. The programme aims to support senior men and women who have been out of the workplace for two years or more. Of the 15 candidates who took part in the organisation’s inaugural 2015 returners programme, 13 were appointed to fixed-term or permanent positions.

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Pre-engagement before leave, keep-in-touch days, paper booklets, a self-appraisal toolkit, website for returners, flexible-working arrangements, coaching or mentoring, training and regular conversations with line management are some of the key factors to include in a return-to-work scheme, says Chloe Chambraud, gender research and policy manager at Business in the Community (BITC).

Return-to-work schemes can also be used to encourage diversity in the workplace, with a particular emphasis on supporting women to reach senior positions and closing the gender pay gap. Chambraud says: “The return-to-work scheme would be part of an overall strategy to achieve gender equality at work; it shouldn’t be just a tick-box exercise, it should really be embedded in a supportive environment and culture. In terms of gender equality and women at the top, [return-to-work schemes] help build this pipeline to ensure women will progress to senior positions.”