The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the unemployment rate to near-record highs. In February 2021, the loss was 8.5 million less than in February 2020, which could take three years to recoup, assuming job creation stays steady.
Many individuals who dropped out of the workforce may want to consider entering a return-to-work program, especially if they've taken time out of the workforce for any reason. Reentering the workforce can seem like a challenge if you've been out for a while or you may feel as if you need to make up for a resume gap.
Mothers make up a large percentage of this group. A total of 42% of mothers have said they reduced their work hours at some point over their career, according to Pew Research. Thirty-nine percent of moms said they have taken a significant amount of time off work. Twenty-seven percent said they quit work completely because of family responsibilities.
Let's take a look at the definition of return-to-work programs, the ideal candidates, and advice for employers and employees.
A return-to-work program, also called a returnship or workforce re-entry program, sounds just like what it is — an internship or work program to help adults re-enter the workforce. Paid return-to-work programs typically last a few weeks to a few months and offer training to improve skills and potential mentorship.
Another type of return-to-work program focuses on individuals who became ill or injured on the job. They allow workers unable to perform their usual job duties to work in a limited or in a lighter capacity for a while.
Ideal candidates for return-to-work programs include:
- Parents who take maternity leave, paternity leave, and/or short-term disability benefits
- Parents who stayed home with older kids
- Employees who cared for an aging parent
- Those who served in the military
- Unemployed individuals
- Individuals injured on the job
- Former employees coming out of retirement
Employers can implement an unlimited number of creative strategies to help employees return to work, including written policies or procedures to help facilitate the return of injured workers and consciously implementing job modifications, adjustments or alterations to support returners. Take a look at a few reasons below why employers should offer return-to-work programs.
Why employers should offer return-to-work programs
Both employers and employees can benefit from return to work programs. Employers can find the following benefits for return-to-work programs for injured employees:
- Reduced claims costs
- No need to hire a new or temporary employee
- Employees can keep up their work routine
- Potential retention benefit
- Increase employees' sense of job security
- Boosts employee morale
Let's go into a bit more detail on three major benefits:
- Lowered cost: Hiring a new employee in place of an injured one costs time and money. Consider how much time and money it takes for the company to collect resumes and interview and train a new employee. It could take months. On the other hand, a committed employee who was injured could return to work (fully recovered) before a new one becomes completely trained.
- Reduced staff turnover rate: You reduce your risk of an injured employee leaving and having a gap in your lineup when you implement a return-to-work program.
- Increased morale: You'll communicate to your employees that "when you need it, we're there." Return-to-work programs can communicate to employees that they are valued. What do employers get when employees believe they care about them? Increased productivity.
- Reduced time away: These programs reduce the duration of absence associated with work-related injuries. Rand Corporation found a 3.6-week reduction in the median number of weeks away from work
When developing your return-to-work program, it's best to communicate how your return-to-work program works alongside your benefits package and the possibility for various return-to-work job positions. Develop clear policies and procedures, communicate early with injured workers, provide training before, during and after the program and coordinate with other employees.
Returnships, on the other hand, might help employers with these potential benefits:
- Widen their network to underrepresented groups
- Can tap into someone's extensive previous skill set
- Parents offer transferable skills to the workplace, such as serving on school committees or coaching youngsters
- Key knowledge still exists; employees might just need to brush up on a new software package or new industry protocols
To implement a returnship, you can choose from a few models:
- Contingent: Employers can hire workers as contingent workers, which means they can evaluate the returner to make sure the returner is a good fit. After performance is evaluated, then the employer can decide who they want working for the company.
- Direct: This model commits to hiring returners as permanent employees. This means that your company decides to choose to still have a probationary period for both the returner and employee before both make a mutual decision.
- Combination: This model commits to a combination of the direct and contingent models and offers employers flexibility to choose which direction they want to go.
Employees who choose to take advantage of a return-to-work program can take comfort that their employers care about their well-being and view them as a vital member of the team. If you have the option of linking up with a return-to-work program or returnship, you can stay on your regular work schedule, continue to feel productive in your job and feel a continued sense of ownership of your work. Before taking advantage of this benefit ask the some of the following basic questions:
- What kind of light-duty work might my job entail?
- Who is my return to work coordinator?
- What is the new hire onboarding process?
- What does my company expect of me?
- When will the return-to-work program begin and end?
- What will compensation look like?
Ask a multitude of questions before you choose a return-to-work program or decide whether it will work best for your long-term career needs.
Employers and employees may both want to seriously consider taking advantage of return-to-work programs for a number of reasons, especially because employees will feel valued and secure in their jobs with this type of program.
If you've left the workforce for a period of time and would feel more comfortable utilizing a return-to-work program before diving into the workforce, consider using a return-to-work program.
Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and a full-time freelance writer and editor. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process.
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