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How to normalise career breaks

28th Mar 2019
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As people live longer they will have more breaks in their working lives. It makes sense therefore for employers of all sizes - and particularly those with skills shortages - to consider how they can best re-integrate those people back into the workforce and tap into their experience.

There has been a growing interest in returner initiatives on the back of sustained work by organisations such as Women Returners. But what makes a good returner programme and how do you convince reluctant hiring managers to get on board?

A roundtable on returner policy was recently held with 20 different employers of all sizes and at different stages of implementation of returner policies. 

Hosted by FDM Group and organised by, those taking part emphasised the quality of the returner candidates they were seeing and the need to reach out to them and recognise their different career paths and the range of skills they had to offer. That meant not just getting buy-in from senior managers, but also training hiring managers to understand any support returners might need.

Participants added that it was important for recruiters to be open to a wider talent pool than they have been traditionally. To make hiring managers more likely to support returners and to show that senior managers value them, they suggested employers should consider including supporting returners in management goals and financially rewarding these.

Despite the often small numbers on returner programmes or in supported returner posts, employers said they believe returner initiatives could change the conversation about career breaks if employers spoke out loudly about the quality of talent and skills those who have had a career break offer.

A new white paper on the event highlights how employers can make a strong business case for returner initiatives based on returners' ability to bring in diversity of thought through their different experiences, their loyalty and how programmes provide a way both for employers to get more women into middle and senior management roles and address skills shortages.

Roundtable participants also spoke in detail about how to attract and retain returners. They suggested employers should use alumni from returner cohort groups as role models and ambassadors as well as diversity advocates. Employers were encouraged to reach out via social media and insight events to encourage returners to apply for initiatives, given returners often have low levels of confidence after years out of the workplace.

Normalising the hiring of returners was also a key topic. It was suggested, for instance, that larger employers consider sharing best practice on returners with their supply chains and clients.

Other suggestions for employers were:

  • To try different types of interview techniques to drill down to the range of experience returners have
  • To offer mentors and an onboarding process
  • To emphasise returners’ wide range of experience and encourage them to use examples from outside the workplace if these are more recent and immediate
  • To provide coaching, mentors, buddies and sponsors as well as an alumni cohort group
  • For smaller employers, to consider supported returner posts or base support on what they offer to those returning from lengthy periods of parental leave.

*The white paper is available free here.

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