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Career breaks can work for everyone – if HR plays its part

22 Mar 2019 By Katy Tanner

Taking time away from work has never been more popular, but it’s an idea that requires careful management, says Katy Tanner

Taking a career break – while often a necessity for those choosing to start a family or following a redundancy – is also becoming an increasingly attractive option for professionals looking for some time out to travel the world or try something new. Opportunities for sabbaticals and ‘returnships’ are fast becoming a part of effective retention strategies for many employers looking to attract and retain top talent in the workplace of the future. 

Deloitte is just one example of an organisation which runs this kind of scheme. Its return to work programme lasts for 20 weeks and is aimed at men and women who have taken a career break. Whether this has been for family or other reasons, the scheme provides tailored support and experiences to help readjust to being back at work.

JP Morgan’s global ReEntry programme provides networking and mentorship opportunities to senior executives who are looking to rejoin corporate life after taking a career break.

Whatever the reasons behind an individual’s decision to take time away from work, picking up where they left off, whether in a previous organisation or in a completely new role, can be a daunting task after putting their career on pause. 

Despite how commonplace taking time away from the workplace has become, there can still be a perceived stigma attached for candidates. Some people may feel anxious about getting back into an office environment, or may worry their skills are a little rusty because a lot has changed since they’ve been away.

Whether an individual has been away from work for six months, two years or more, getting back into the workplace can be nerve-racking. However, the most important thing is that they remain confident in their abilities. Without confidence, candidates can easily undervalue what they can offer an employer.

Ensuring that proper onboarding schemes are in place when employees return to work can go a long way in making them feel properly and gradually re-introduced to the workplace. Providing adequate support will help them make use of the new experiences and skills they have gained over the course of their time off. 

A proper onboarding scheme benefits not only the employee but also the company: revisiting an employee’s unique goals and responsibilities could help employers allocate someone with a particular skill set to a new team.

Investing the time wisely into a successful onboarding process will ensure your employees thrive in their role and continue adding value to your company.

Whether it is a sabbatical or a secondment, understanding the reasons behind an employee’s decision to take time away from the office is an essential step to ensuring they feel welcomed back into the workplace after their career break. 

Honesty is key in re-establishing a viable working relationship. Employers must understand that everyone has their own career path, based on individual life goals. As long as people are honest about the reasons why they took time away from work, while demonstrating the valuable new skills and experiences they’ve gained and how that can benefit the business, there’s no reason to feel apprehensive about welcoming employees back to work. 

Schedule regular check-ins 

Once an employee decides that a temporary career break is the right choice for them, the HR department must ensure that lines of communication are kept open. 

Regular check-in points can help employees feel less alienated from the workplace in their time away, while also avoiding the potential loss of morale or feeling of disconnection once they are ready to return to the office. 

Checking in to see how employees are doing on their time off and what their expectations about returning to work are ensures that both employer and the employee maintain clear communication throughout and remain on the same page.

In conclusion, a career break can benefit employees and add value to the workplace. But employers must endeavour to understand the reasons why an employee wants to take time away from the office. HR departments must also keep in touch with employees and welcome them back to working life with a proper onboarding programme when the time is right.

Katy Tanner is leadership development director at Robert Half UK

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