- Richard Morris
Helping people return to work after a career break is once again under the spotlight following the budget announcement that £5m will go towards extending return to work schemes to all levels of management.
How this funding trickles down remains to be seen, but the intention is to give those who have taken long career breaks the opportunity to refresh their skills and cultivate professional networks.
Returning to work after a break – for whatever reason – can be difficult. Trends and skills evolve quickly in the recruitment industry, and internal roles shift and adapt. However, returnees often have a lot to offer in terms of skills and expertise. According to data from KPMG, there are 96m skilled women around the world aged between 30 and 54 who are currently on career breaks. Of these, some 55m have gained experience to middle management level or above. If they all returned to the workforce, the global economy would see a boost of £151bn each year.
Some businesses are leaders in this field, and provide returning workers with training, mentoring and networking to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. However, our own research suggests that such support is not the norm. Just 7% of UK firms said that they are seeing more mums returning to the workforce than last year.
What the more forward-thinking firms all agree upon is that flexibility has to be a primary consideration. Whether other support initiatives are provided or not, asking recruitment professionals to return to a fixed-hours, fixed-location job after taking time out is not always workable.
It’s clear then than recruitment firms must be more open to offering their employees flexible hours and flexible locations to work from. There is certainly no shortage of available workspace to choose from. The UK boasts one of the most extensive networks of flexible workspace in the world, environments that enable returning professionals to get out of the home environment and away from potential distractions, and back into a business-like atmosphere.
The challenge for employers is not so much logistical. More, it is attitudinal and a shift in mindset is required. In the target-driven recruitment industry in particular, greater acceptance of flexible working and prioritising output and results over hours spent in the office makes sense. This change in attitude may require employers to make changes to reporting structures and to adopt new management techniques. It is about placing more trust in the hands of the employee, showing confidence in their tenacity and professionalism, and making sure the job fits around the person rather than the other way round.
The financial and logistical benefits of working flexibly are convincing, but forward-thinking business owners as managers see well beyond these advantages. Attitudes are changing and smart firms are championing working structures that aim to get the very best from individual employees.
Those businesses not thinking in this way face the very real threat of missing out on the best of today’s employee talent. Again, our own figures reveal that when faced with two similar jobs, more than nine in ten professionals would select the one offering flexible working. Further, more than half agreed they would “actively change job” if one with more flexible working was offered.
Importantly, working flexibly does not mean working in isolation. Co-working is one of the biggest workplace trends of the moment, describing a workspace that is occupied by individuals from a number of different companies and that encourages networking and collaboration.
Co-working spaces provide workers with all the social interaction of an office without restricting them to fixed hours and routines. These are environments that are specifically designed to foster ideas and drive productivity, with employee well-being being a key priority when it comes to aesthetic design decisions and the inclusion of communal areas such as cafes, bars and activity-led breakout areas. For the recruiter, of course, they also have the added advantage of providing a valuable potential pool of new clients and candidates.
With the budget announcement bringing the issue of returning employees to the fore once again, the onus is on businesses to re-evaluate working models and to ensure that skilled employees are not discouraged to return. Indeed, the concept of flexible working is one that appeals to employees across the board – not just those returning from an extended period of time off. If the focus on returning employees triggers a change to a more flexible approach for all employees, the result will be a workforce that is happier, more motivated and more equipped to find the best candidate for any role.
Richard Morris is UK CEO of Regus