Return-To-Work Programs: An Innovative Solution to Building Diverse Talent Pools in Uncertain Economic Times


In the last three years, employers have experienced drastic changes in the labor market unlike anything before. From the aftermath of the pandemic to the economic uncertainty of today, companies are seeking alternative talent pools that will help curb “bottom line” concerns. As a result, many HR professionals and business leaders are turning to former practices such as internal candidates who could absorb workloads after layoffs.To avoid the risks, Return-To-Work programs present alternatives that provide surprising results.

What Are the Risks to Quiet Hiring?

It is the new buzzphrase right now, but it is nothing new. This practice enables businesses to prepare for and weather organizational changes. Since it is much harder to fill roles due to job openings reaching 11 million at the end of 2022, and hiring times as long as six weeks to six months or more, businesses often look internally to meet workload and business needs.

Internal quiet hiring is short-term redeployment. This can include presenting internal mobility programs, rotational programs, or project and gig work to their current staff to fill the gaps in the workload. This can also involve giving employees extra responsibilities that were handled by other coworkers and even upper-level management who have left the organization and are not being replaced. Many times, this does not include a title change or increased salary.

As tempting as this tactic may be as a way for filling open roles, it has its drawbacks.

Higher rates of burnout  because of the increased workload and stress

Lack of employee engagement  from the growing resentment of extra work

Higher turnover rates  when employees choose to leave the organization instead of working harder

Also, employers need to be aware that if they shift a person’s responsibility, there is a good chance the work they were first responsible for can suffer. And if they are not fully skilled to perform the new duties they are assigned, there is the potential they will need additional support from management. 

External quiet hiring involves reaching outside the organization for quick fills of open positions. This involves incorporating the assistance of staffing agencies to find people or hiring short-term contractors. 

Most staffing agencies have people in their database that they have sourced and processed and who can normally start work very quickly. The people that come from agencies have the understanding that the job that they are performing could be short term and when it comes to their end date, there are no hard feelings.

But as convenient as it is to get people in the door quickly, there are disadvantages, too. Many traditional temp/staffing agencies work with mid-career professionals, but steer away from individuals with career breaks who could provide diversity and valuable support with industry insight and mentorship. Of the candidates that they work with, many are looking to launch into the workforce and gain hands-on experience. They may lack or have underdeveloped soft skills necessary to be successful in the role and add true value to the organization.

Due to the temporary nature of these roles, temporary hires are likely applying for full-time employment elsewhere. As quickly as they start, they could leave with little or no notice.

Many companies are turning to quiet hiring. According to Resume Builder:

  • 4 in 10 companies are hiring contractors to replace laid-off workers
  • 62% have asked employees to take on new roles within the organization

Yet, the overall outcome of quiet hiring is a lack of rewarding and motivating employees equally. Employers will find short-term results and have times of high productivity, but the end result is a workforce that becomes disengaged. There is a better option.

What Returnships® Mean to Organizations

Return-To-Work programs are developed as a way for people to reenter the workforce after a career break. Similar in many ways to an internship, Returnships® are different because these programs focus on seasoned professionals, some with advanced degrees and over ten or more years experience, who stepped away from the workforce to care for family members, take sabbaticals, or explore other opportunities. 

A Return-To-Work program creates opportunities for high-potential, diverse talent often overlooked in the talent acquisition process to gain full-time employment with the support of mentorship and on-boarding programs. Thus paving an easier path back into the workforce. Returners are truly motivated to contribute to the organization as a whole; adding unique value and higher rates of retention. For example, Boston-based reacHIRE has an 82% conversion rate to full-time roles and a 2 year retention rate of 92%, and 83% retention rate of three or more years through their Return-To-Work programs. 

Employment gaps have traditionally been a red flag for employers. But since millions of women stepped away from their roles during the pandemic, many are now burdened with explaining the job gap on their resumes, making it harder to return to the workforce. 

What Benefits Do Companies See from Return-To-Work Programs? 

Return-To-Work programs have been growing in popularity. Even before the pandemic, companies like T-Mobile, Hubspot, and Fitch Group have been turning to programs for Returners to ease the burden of filling roles.

Businesses can utilize Return-To-Work programs as an optimal way to source talent with high-quality experience, advanced degrees, and diverse perspectives. There are a multitude of benefits companies receive by including a Returnship in their HR practices.

Higher ROI – There could be less cost associated with paying out full time benefits. Plus an additional saving from avoidance of internal burnout or turnover as a result of added job responsibilities to existing employees. 

Ease of onboarding – The best Return-To-Work programs do more than source Returners who are highly qualified to fill roles and meet diversity goals. They aim to help organizations plan, recruit, interview, train, and successfully onboard. Since 1 in 3 new hires leave an organization within the first 90 days, according to JazzHR 2022 Job Seeker Nation Report, onboarding is vital. The gold standard for Return-To-Work programs should ultimately lighten the load for your Talent Acquisition teams and hiring managers. Refreshing core skills and introducing new hires to the company culture will help set goals and expectations for the role(s) for which you need to hire, and ensure success for everyone.

More diversity – Because of a wider pool of candidates, there is greater opportunity to drive diversity in the workplace, which is associated with innovation. Return-To-Work programs help enhance gender equality at the workplace. And according to Harvard Business Review, Return-to-work programs are one of the best ways to bring women back to work post-pandemic.


Develop employer branding – You can become an employer of choice, like T-Mobile, who partnered with ReacHIRE and saw 84% of their participants find full-time and extended-contract positions in 2020, and 78% YTD from participation through their Return-To-Work program. This is accomplished by helping people with:

  • Further developing their skills
  • Continuing career growth
  • Providing networking opportunities
  • Granting flexibility
  • Potential full-time employment 

Therefore, Return-To-Work programs offer a far more sustainable solution to the hiring problem. Leveraging a creative approach to hiring that will help fill in gaps without bearing the immediate expense of full-time employees or costly temp agency fees will not only keep you competitive, but will save you from sacrificing the quality of the talent pool within your organization.

How to Launch a Returnship® Program

When launching a Returnship program, it is important to have an idea of what will work best for your organization. Do your research and develop the right requirements to fit the role, such as how much experience candidates should have and what is the minimum time away from work you will allow. The key is to not wait too long to explore this option. For more information on how to tap into great talent that has quality skills you need to see you through uncertain times, contact reacHIRE to learn about how we customize our programs to meet your company’s unique hiring needs.