Return-To-Work Programs: How to Determine What’s Right for Your Organization


Return-To-Work programs are gaining popularity in the search for alternative talent pipelines to help to bring more diverse talent to the workforce. In order to make this effective for your organization, it is important to understand which Return-To-Work program will be right for your organization.

What is a Return-To-Work Program?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to Return-To-Work programs. Companies can hire Returners directly into their organization or hire them on a contractual basis through companies like reacHIRE, allowing for evaluation and determining whether the Returner is a good fit for both parties. 

Returners who have taken a career break and are now participating in a Return-To-Work program can be viewed similarly to those that sign up for internships, in that they open doors for individuals to work with established organizations and provide higher levels of support. It differs from an internship because the program focuses on individuals who took a break from the workforce to attend to other responsibilities including raising children, running a business, or taking a sabbatical. 

Returning to the workforce after a career gap may raise concerns for recruitment teams, which can be viewed as a red flag. However, a Return-to-Work program offers a unique opportunity to those people who are often overlooked to rejoin the workforce, regardless of the length of their career break.

What Are the Benefits of a Return-To-Work Program?

Since 2008, the popularity of the Returnship® programs has grown exponentially. Many companies like Amazon, IBM, and Schneider Electric Global have launched Return-To-Work programs, discovering the win/win opportunities these programs create for the organization and Returners.

How Return-To-Work Programs Benefit the Returner

Because of the fallout from the pandemic, millions of people lost their jobs, the highest percentage being women. Now that companies are recognizing the need for building a more flexible and supportive company culture, many women are finding they can reenter the workforce. 

But this decision can be stressful. Regardless of gender, knowing how to take the first step may cause many to give up early or take on less meaningful jobs because of the lack of opportunities available to them after a break.

With a Return-To-Work program, Returners are not forced to start at the bottom again. Programs that support their career breaks often save time and stress because of the available opportunities to get up to speed with the latest industry trends and new skills that will set them up for success. 

While participating in the Return-To-Work program, they are partnered with a mentor and given tasks to complete that build on the skills they currently have or reskill them for new tasks.

After completing the program, most participants have a growth in confidence and a cross-functional network built through their cohorts. Many times, after completing the program, women go on to find rewarding careers.

How Return-To-Work Programs Benefit the Company

Companies have unique challenges today. Insider provided insight into the concerns of HR executives and stated that finding and keeping top talent, closing the skill gap, and creating an inclusive work environment were the greatest challenges they were facing this coming year. Return-To-Work programs offer a solution.

Many companies are running out of options to create a more diverse workplace and find skilled candidates to fill roles. With unemployment at a record low and job openings at an essential high, a reported 11 million at the end of 2022, posting a job and hoping the right person will apply is a thing of the past. With Return-To-Work programs, companies can open the door to a larger pool of candidates who have the business acumen and skill sets needed to build higher retention within their organizations.

Also, the candidates from this program are of a higher quality, are more reliable, and more dedicated than their counterparts. This is in part because these individuals typically hold higher degrees and/or already have years of experience under their belts. As a result they often have developed the soft skills desired by companies. Plus, they are also at a stage where their lives are more stable and less apt to move from job to job to gain experience or build their resumes.

An added bonus from Return-To-Work programs is that they help build company branding. When companies provide a Return-To-Work program that grows the diversity of their employees, employees become more engaged and remain with their employer. Also, with more people becoming selective about whom they work for, when they see a company actively resourcing a diverse staff, they are more inclined to apply for open roles.

What Defines an Effective Return-To-Work Program?

The best way to gauge the success of a program is by measuring the accomplishments of those participating. If most participants are growing in confidence, building a supportive circle of colleagues, and contributing to the business’s achievements, then it is fair to say that your Return-To-Work program is working.

The timeline required for Return-To-Work programs can vary. Some can kick off within a few weeks and others may need six months. The goal is to provide ample time for people to learn and become comfortable with their abilities while compensating them for their efforts and real work they provide the company.

The key components of a great Return-To-Work program are:

Onboarding – The average onboarding program lasts 90 days, but according to Gallup’s “Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for New Employees” report, it typically takes new employees 12 months to reach their full performance level. 

Networking – Programs that are cohort-based allow Returners the opportunity to learn from one another and connect with other new Returners across the organization. With reacHIRE’s Return-to-Work program, 98% of Returners felt that being a part of the cohort had a positive impact on their Return-to-Work experience. Largely because this creates a sense of belonging from day one at your organization and they know they are not alone on their journey.

Mentoring – Return-to-Work programs that embed training, coaching, and mentorship ensure Returners make a smooth transition into your company and are set up for long term success.

Reskilling – If you plan to provide in-depth training during your program and “manufacture” talent in areas where your company is short-staffed (e.g. cloud technology), that is a great approach, but be sure to build in time for the Returners to upskill.

The prime focus should be to address the common pain points Returners face when entering back into the workforce and offer a safe environment where they feel comfortable pursuing new careers. 

What Can Go Wrong with a Return-To-Work Program?

As much as everyone involved in a Return-To-Work program hopes for success, there are pitfalls that can cause the program to go wrong.

Companies often fail to have effective onboarding practices, which leaves new program participants feeling lost and wondering where to go with questions. Since a large percentage of people leave an organization after the first 90 days, companies need to create a positive first impression.

There are also times when the training is subpar, and participants grow frustrated when they make mistakes and lose their confidence in their ability to perform the job well. Without proper mentorship put in place and available for support, participants may feel they are not getting the right reskilling they will need to reenter the workforce successfully.

Lastly, with all the preparation put in place, if no one knows about the program there will be no applicants. These programs need to be announced to the right people at the places they are at.

How to Choose the Best Return-To-Work Program for Your Organization

It is true that not all programs will see the same in the level of success. To be effective like T-Mobile, which had 84% of their participants find full-time work in 2019, it is important to pick the right program. 

The first step you will want to take is identifying the unique needs of your organization. This can be done by asking important questions such as:

  • How long should you run the program?
  • How many participants can you take on?
  • What is the best time of the year to offer the program?
  • What line of business needs support?
  • Which managers are best suited to help?

Next is to decide what the right candidate for the program would look like, including how much experience they need to do well in the program and what core skills they should have. 

Lastly, you should understand the challenges participants face when entering back into the workforce and what they would need from the program to find benefits for their time invested.

reacHIRE has been executing Return-To-Work programs for over 10 years, and can give you the advantage over your competition. To learn more about effective Return-To-Work programs, contact a reacHIRE specialist today.