Career breaks are very common, but organisations often don’t manage them well. Two things can help: clarity and coaching.
Linkedin surveyed approximately 23,000 workers and 7,000 hiring managers and found that 62% of employees have taken a career break at some point, and 35%, mostly women, would like to take one in the future, citing parenting, bereavement, caregiving, gap years, and layoff as the major reasons.
Returning to work after a break can be challenging, however. A TENA survey of 1000 new mums discovered it takes nearly six months to readjust, with nearly 25% saying they found the workplace ‘completely different’. Indeed, 52% were worried about their return, and 37% were dreading it. Companies therefore must think carefully about how to support their returning employees.
Coaching is the perfect way of offering personalised support to your returners.
To make the transition as seamless as possible for the individual and the organisation, the best companies offer two things: clarity and coaching.
Create clear processes, so everyone knows what to do.
- Assess the experience of returning to work within your organisation. What works well? What could be improved? What happens when people go on maternity leave or career breaks? How do you keep in touch, manage their return and support them once they are back?
- Create a robust strategy, identify best practice processes and ensure these are reflected in people’s everyday experiences.
Once these processes are in place, coaching is the perfect way of offering personalised support to your returners.
In the UK, over 650,000 women took maternity leave in the year to March 2021 and over 170,000 men took paternity leave, but Rachel Jackson, who supports working parents, says the whole experience is often badly handled because of poor processes and inexperienced managers.
Rachel says, "I called my company A Different Me because you are a different person after your maternity leave. It takes time to get comfortable with your new identity as a working parent and coaching can really help”.
There’s real power to having someone independent and impartial to talk to and confide in.
Jo Richards, Commercial Excellence Training Manager for L’Oréal Professional Products Division, finds that returners often worry about being left behind, and this can lead to plunges in confidence. Focused support and coaching helps refresh and update their skills, and she offers the opportunity to re-attend an induction programme, recognising that many elements of the workplace are almost unrecognisable, especially post-covid. This benefits the individual, reducing stress and facilitating their re-engagement, and the organisation, helping employees deliver peak performance more quickly.
Coaching works. BetterUP reported that companies with strong coaching cultures have 45% higher year-on-year revenue growth, and 14% higher five-year average revenue growth than companies with low coaching cultures, alongside higher productivity and staff retention, and lower absenteeism and training costs.
So how can organisations set up effective coaching systems to support a successful transition back to work?
- Create a diverse pool of coaches, with a range of experiences and backgrounds.
- Train your coaches well. Effective coaches don’t offer too much advice, or tell people what to do, recognising that the best solutions come from coachees themselves as the experts in their own lives.
- Help everyone understand how coaching works. Good coaches ask lots of searching questions to help coachees think their problems through. If this approach has not been explained properly, however, coachees can find it confusing and hard to engage.
- Match coaches and coachees carefully. People returning after career breaks appreciate coaches with similar experiences, who offer empathy and understanding. Becky, a Business Analyst returning after maternity leave, says, “I’d like to be coached/mentored by another mum who can relate to my experience and help me navigate the transition back to work and plan out my next career steps with me, while bearing in mind my new family’s needs”.
- Discuss confidentiality and ways of working. Clear contracting upfront clarifies the relationship and sets it up for success.
- Regularly assess the coaching programme. Seek feedback, making changes where necessary. When coaching works well, everyone wins. Individuals gain ongoing personalised support and coaches gain satisfaction from helping others, developing their personal skills and widening their experience.
Emma Menzies, Fertility at Work Coach and Consultant, and Co-host of the In/Fertility in the City podcast, herself a new mum, says: “There’s real power to having someone independent and impartial to talk to and confide in, sharing hopes, dreams, and fears, bouncing ideas around and being accountable for taking action as well. When organisations hire coaches for their employees, they give them access to this power and it can be transformative.
The MAGIC of coaching
Coaches can use this five-step MAGIC acronym to effectively support a successful return to work.
- Mirror: hold up a metaphorical mirror and reflect on their situation. What is going well, and less well so far? What are their key values? What is most important to them now?
- Aspirations: explore their aspirations in the short and longer term. What does success look like for them, personally and professionally?
- Goals: create tangible, measurable goals to work towards. What would they like to achieve in the coming weeks, months or year?
- Ideas: discuss ways to achieve these goals and overcome potential obstacles.
- Commitments: build a clear plan with specific commitments. How will they get started?
The figures are stark and the benefits of getting this right are manifold. A Careers After Babies report found that while 98% of women want to return to work after having children, 85% leave full-time work within three years, and 19% leave work completely, due to lack of flexibility and burnout.
This represents a waste of talent and experience when, according to The Week, “Britain is in the grip of an employment crisis, with labour shortages being the most urgent problem facing the UK economy.”
By proactively managing the experiences of all returners, with a clear process and personalised coaching, the best organisations will attract and retain experience and talent, with extensive benefits for all.