When carers return to work
Not everything is pandemic-related. Not everyone at home right now is off work due to COVID-19. Many are parents or carers taking a career break or leave of absence from the workplace. A PwC report from a few years ago noted that more than half a million women in the UK are on a caring-related extended break from work. Given that far from all carers are women (though the majority most definitely is) that’s an awful lot of skilled and experienced workers who sooner or later will be looking for a way back to the workplace; and not necessarily the workplace they were in before their break started.
The factors that affect their return – according to a rapid evidence assessment by the Government Equalities Office in 2017 – include, “social attitudes, the age of the child or children, ethnicity, and the availability of maternity pay and maternity leave.”
In a poll of returners conducted by MMB magazine in 2018, 90% said there was no support when they returned to work, and 92% said some kind of dedicated programme of measures would have been helpful.
Cue the CIPD’s ‘Introduction to supporting parent returners into flexible jobs‘…
You’re a manager or business owner, you’re in the middle of a pandemic, have you really got time right now to worry about this? Well, apart from the basic fairness angle (everybody who wants or needs it should have equal access to work) you could base your business case on the following:
- Broaden your recruitment talent pool – the more experience and skills you have to choose from, the better.
- Inclusion and diversity – although anyone might potentially be a returning carer, the reality in the UK is that most are women looking to combine a return to work with parenthood.
- Reducing the gender pay gap – traditional attitudes and gender roles have contributed greatly to the current pay gap situation; addressing the barriers to returning parents results in more women in senior roles.
- Boost your reputation – focusing on this issue means you stand out as an employer willing to support the workforce (a good message to send both externally and internally).
Your returner strategy – what to include
The CIPD guidance recommends that a business consider a variety of factors when looking at how best to support returning carers:
- Learning & development – What skills or knowledge need updating? What new skills or knowledge are needed?
- Induction/onboarding support – On a broader note, what’s changed while they were away? What does the returner need to re-integrate? Note: workplace culture factors are key here.
- Job design – Most returning carers still have some level of caring responsibility. What reasonable changes might need making to give them the balance they need while still giving you a ‘job done well’?
- Progression – If a newly-returned carer is reliant on working flexibly, how does that fit with your current progression opportunities? (Hint: if the answer is, it doesn’t, you may need to look at less exclusionary routes to career progression and promotion).
On top of this, will be more individual factors such as financial wellbeing and balancing income and (child)care costs; accessing the social aspects of the workplace; and specific flexibility requirements (a common example would be the issues of school runs, or long summer holidays).
Flexibility is key
The CIPD guide correctly identifies flexible working as being central to most returners’ job requirements. In other words, if you want to make the most of accessing this particular section of the UK workforce, flexibility is key. The guide recommends three basic steps:
- Assess your level of flexibility – your existing policies and their interpretation, your current flexible working setup, what’s working and what isn’t.
- Design flexibility into returner roles – (naturally, not just returner roles but any roles that would benefit) – working with line managers, think about location (at least in a pandemic, we’re all much better at remote working!) and hours (early or late starts and finishes, etc.)
- Be open about your flexibility – it’s a major plus point in your recruitment and it makes you a more attractive employer to returners, more likely to attract the best.
Workers looking to return to the workplace after an extended break represent a rich source of skills and experience, one that is largely untapped by many employers. It may require you to work and think more flexibly but a returning carer, eager to get back to flexing their ‘work muscles’, could be your ideal addition (or re-addition) to the team.
On a macro scale, the PwC research mentioned earlier also noted that fully addressing the so-called career break penalty for female professionals could boost the UK economy’s output by £1.7 billion.
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