Article: How to attract and integrate employees at work after a long absence?

Diversity

How to attract and integrate employees at work after a long absence?

Change of any kind can be an incredibly stressful experience and getting back to work after a long period of absence presents a major change in the life of a person. It brings with it many anxieties and fears which if not handled sensitively can lead to high attrition rates in this group of staff.
 

Reducing the numbers of leavers is directly proportional to a reduction in the amount spent on recruitment and training of replacements

 

A good start is preparing a comprehensive ‘Return to Work' policy

 

Change of any kind can be an incredibly stressful experience and getting back to work after a long period of absence presents a major change in the life of a person. It brings with it many anxieties and fears which if not handled sensitively can lead to high attrition rates in this group of staff.

Employees take a break in their working lives for various reasons. The most common being maternity leave or time off for bringing up children. Other reasons include caring for sick relatives, illness or even a sabbatical for travelling or for further studies. Of course one also has to consider workers who have been laid off and unable to find employment for some time. While even a short period of absence can have effect on an employee’s productivity, the most challenging situation for the organizations is where people have been away from the work environment for a significant period of time. Trying to attract these employees back to work and re-integrating them into the workforce presents particular problems which need to be resolved if the organization is serious about its commitment to employee development.

One of the main issues is the reduced self confidence in the returnee regarding their abilities and skills. Having been away from the working arena, many individuals end up doubting their own ability to perform and fear that they may not be capable of meeting their employers’ expectations. One valid reason for this fear would be the feeling of being ‘behind the times’. With great leaps in technology in even short spans of time, any person is bound to worry about the fact that they are not up to date with the latest advancements in their field. Further, after months or even sometimes years of being away from the corporate environment, such employees would have to work hard at adjusting to things that most of us take for granted. They might, for example, find it difficult to work with a group of people, or even find the fixed working hours mentally and physically exhausting. The routine and discipline of work and the expectations of them to manage their time effectively can also seem like a daunting exercise for someone who has not done this for any length of time. In many cases these anxieties are compounded by the tough psychological transition involved in working in a lower level of job than before.

In the face of such seemingly daunting obstacles to a successful re-entry to work, Managers and HR professionals need to ensure that they are doing their best to stop these ‘returners to work’ from giving up on the endeavour. This makes particular sense when we note that the cost of recruiting new staff can be up to four times the original employee’s salary. Reducing the numbers of leavers is therefore directly proportional to a reduction in the amount spent on recruitment and training of replacements. Apart from the obvious financial advantages of such a policy, companies can also benefit from a healthier and happier workforce, as time off from work often provides a new perspective for the employee, which brings with it a fresh outlook and renewed enthusiasm into the organization. An employer that actively encourages a healthy work-life balance is also attractive to many people who would normally not think about going back to work after such long breaks.

There are several steps an organization can take in order to help such employees in their reintegration. A good start is preparing a comprehensive ‘Return to Work’ policy emphasizing the company’s commitment towards encouraging people to rejoin work after career breaks and supporting them to make their return successful. They should then put in procedures and processes to facilitate the same. These can be divided into three distinct categories, steps to be taken before the employee comes back to work, the initial period after joining work and, finally the ongoing evaluation.

Pre-return:
- Once an employee expresses the desire or intention to rejoin work, the HR department should schedule a return to work interview. This important meeting would help to highlight any anxieties and questions the returner might have and also give HR the chance to outline the practical help they can offer, together with communicating the next steps to be taken before they person can start. This is also a good time to agree on a realistic and manageable plan of action to ease the transition.
- It is also important to make the employee aware of any changes that might have occurred in the organization and their respective departments such as pay awards, restructuring. They must also be updated on any changes in legislation that might affect either their position or the work that they perform.
- This is also the perfect opportunity to state clearly what the organization’s expectations are from the individual once they are settled back into their role.
- A return to work pack detailing all the above together with the development objectives of the individual will help by clarifying the course of action.

Upon Joining
- It is a good idea to gradually ease a returnee back into the work routine. This can be done by offering them to work fewer hours per day or fewer days per week initially until they find their feet. For some jobs it may even be possible for working from home for the first couple of weeks. To help rebuild the confidence employees can also be offered less demanding assignments to begin with.
- For returnees who have childcare or other family responsibilities the chance to work flexible working hours with earlier or later start/finish times and days off in lieu provide additional assistance.
- Realizing that for women returning to work after maternity breaks the toughest part is finding suitable childcare, some employers go as far as offering subsidized childcare or even on-site crèches.
- A very significant aspect of this whole exercise is that of suitably training the returnee to become fully effective in his position. On the one hand this would include training to reduce skill gaps identified in the return to work interview, for example, new systems or procedures and technological changes. On the other hand it would deal with softer issues such as confidence building, team work, communication etc.
- A mentor or buddy system can also help by providing both practical and emotional support to someone trying to learn the ropes.
- Here it is also important to ensure that the line manager of the returnee has been trained in the particular challenges faced by such individuals and how to help them overcome the same.

Ongoing Evaluation of progress
- In order to ensure that the systems put in place are working, it is essential to put in measures and benchmarks to effectively track the progress of the individual.
- Regular review meetings with the line manager would help in early identification of any problems that could lead to performance issues.


Summary

In today’s economic and social climate it makes real sense for companies to encourage and support their employees to rejoin work after career-breaks. A comprehensive return to work policy together with the right procedures to realize this policy is sure to reduce the time-frame for such workers to feel comfortable and integrated back into the organization.
 

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Topics: Diversity, Employee Relations, Strategic HR

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