Rise of the Returners

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When Michelle Kennedy, the co-founder and CEO of Peanut, a social discovery app that connects new mothers, came back to work after a maternity leave, she not only recognised a lot of changes in herself, but also recognised a lot of changes she needed to see in her workplace to accommodate her needs as a new parent. The same is the case with a lot of returning parents, or “Returners”, who resume work a couple of months or years after caring for a child, or sometimes caring for an ill or elderly relative.

It is understandable that getting back to work after childbirth can be very stressful for parents-- emotionally, physically and financially. And according to a report published by PwC on women returners, most of the time many women returners end up in lower skilled roles than the ones they held prior to their career breaks, referred to as occupational downgrading. The research shows that three in five or about 65% of returning women are likely to face this problem. To combat this, a lot of companies are coming up with tailored “returnship” or mentorship programmes for a seamless reintegration of their employees back into the workplace.

The importance of mentorship here can be further highlighted as it constitutes the first step to get back into the company’s existing rhythm. Mentorship can help to connect employees with shared experiences, in this case, as parents or caregivers, taking the guesswork out of jumping back into the workplace.

We thought we’d highlight a few companies that are making life a bit easier for these returners:

  1. Mentor Moms at PWC:  Apart from being trailblazers worldwide, PwC is setting a whole new benchmark for working moms who choose to return to work by offering telecommuting programmes, six weeks of paid time off for women and men, and adoption reimbursement up to $6,000. But perhaps the most radical approach is the Mentor Moms programme, which pairs new mothers with other working moms in the company, giving them someone to confide in about the unique difficulties of balancing work and a new baby.

  2. On-site daycare at Patagonia: Outdoor wear company Patagonia proudly states that 100% of its new mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends, an accomplishment made possible in part through their in-house daycare perk. Since 1983, Patagonia has offered on-site daycare and after-school programmes at its headquarters in Ventura, California. The company says it’s good not just for the parents and their kids, but for the company as a whole.

  3. Vodafone makes sure that all new mothers will not only get at least 16 weeks of paid time off, but can also then work reduced hours at full pay for the following six months. Johnson and Johnson are allowing new parents, including those who adopt, to split their expanded 17-week leave so as to allow more flexibility in splitting time and caregiving responsibilities.

A few places for companies to start as they consider how to support their co-workers and employees?

  1. Give them space

  2. Have Empathy

  3. Consider unpredictable schedules

  4. Communicate changing requirements and expectations effectively 

Such returner programmes make sure that re-entering the work place for parents becomes an accepted norm rather than a one-off exception. It maintains employee satisfaction and ensures the return of experienced people back to the workplace, retaining their experience while allowing them to pursue their desired paths, like starting a family, outside of work.

At WERKIN, we believe in the power of mentorship to connect employees with shared goals and experiences. If companies want to build a diverse and inclusive workplace, they must consider the diverse situations of their employees, making it easier for them to manage personal transitions like becoming a parent or caring for a loved one. WERKIN helps companies manage, measure and scale tech-enabled mentorship programmes for employees.