Returning to work after career break leaves third of UK employees feeling ‘left behind’

Poll reveals majority of returners felt like it was their first day again, with others finding their roles had been abolished altogether

More than one in four UK workers says concerns about career progression are putting them off having children, a survey has found.

The poll of 2,000 people, all of whom took a leave of absence lasting more than three months, found 36 per cent felt left behind when they returned to work after their career break, and 57 per cent said returning to work felt like it was their first day again.

More than a third (38 per cent) of respondents found their return to work so stressful they felt nervous or anxious when contemplating taking another break, while 27 per cent did not return after their break because their role no longer existed.

The poll was conducted by CW Jobs for its Returnship Report, which looked into people's experiences of coming back to work following a career break. It illustrates the practical problems experienced by employees and their HR teams when supporting returners – including parents, carers or those taking career breaks – at a time when ‘returnships’ are increasingly being prioritised as a way of boosting organisational inclusion.

Commenting on the findings, Marilyn Devonish, a consultant and corporate trainer, said businesses should consider assigning an individual to support returners as they come back to work. 

“Identify people in the office who have both mastered the systems and are good at teaching, coaching and conveying ideas to others. And where possible, build time into their job spec – otherwise you create a different type of time pressure and blockage in the system,” she said.

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Devonish added it was important returners felt confident to ask questions about things that may have changed since they were away. “If you don’t know how to do something, ask and ask early,” she said.

The report also found that 28 per cent of respondents cited career development concerns following their return to work as one of the main reasons they would not want to either have children or have more children. Men were nearly twice as likely to feel this way than women (39 per cent and 21 per cent respectively).

The report suggested employees might benefit from ‘keep in touch days’ and internships designed to help returners transition back into a senior role. Just 21 per cent of workers polled knew what such a ‘returnship’ was.

During the last parliament, a bill was introduced that would extend redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers. If passed, the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill would prohibit employers from being able to make a woman redundant from the point she notifies them she is pregnant until six months after the end of her maternity leave.

Meanwhile, a report earlier this year found more than a quarter (27 per cent) of cancer patients received no support to help them back to work after their diagnosis, and of those who did return to work, 23 per cent did not feel well enough to be there.

The poll, conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support, also found one in 10 of those surveyed felt pressured into returning to work before they were ready.