Are you one of the many women who left their job for a personal break and looking to get back to work now? Rest assured; you are not alone! Most women quit their job due to maternity and caring for young children. Other women leave their job to care for ailing parents, managing personal issues or health challenges. The energy that women bring to teams is unmatched! The diversity organizations aim for, and unique perspectives all add to the overall success of the business. But how would an organization react to a woman returning to work after a career break for a significant amount of time?
A key barrier for women is the loss of confidence from being out of the organization for an extended period. We constantly keep hearing examples- “About five years back, I took a break from work for three months after delivering a baby. During that time, I felt completely cut off from the team. I understand it was a hectic time for them and I had no time for connecting with people while I was busy handling the baby. But by the time I got back, it felt like the company had moved on without me. I had no purpose or work to do and found it hard to connect back. After a month, I ended up quitting due to no job satisfaction,” said an ex-team lead at an auditing firm in Bengaluru.
There are women who feel that their skills are out of date if they have not been in the corporate world for a while. But there are a lot of things one can do to prepare themselves for a return.
How can companies welcome back women to work?
It is a given fact that when women return to work, they are likely to work harder to prove themselves. They might have a fair bit to catch up and will require the support of their male and female counterparts to have a smooth transition back in.
How can a business welcome back women – whether they were on a break for maternity, marriage, or to care for elders? Diverse teams with women in them tend to deliver better results than teams with just one predominant gender.
Diverse teams have more engagement, more profitability, and higher success rates owing to varied perspectives and ideas. Flexibility is key to welcoming women returnees back and upholding gender diversity. One of our sources mentioned that the best way to make the process seamless is to encourage women to continue working even when they are on a break.
“We often interview our female employees with care while recruiting them and at the same time understand that we must be cognizant of unexpected situations. We usually clarify certain basic questions- Are they expecting anytime soon? Matrimony and situations surrounding that? Health challenges of self and family? This does not make us biased – we are tracking productivity and not availability. We bring tools and techniques to help women continue working remotely and support us even during their breaks. It helps us extend our support to them as well,” said the team leader of a popular marketing agency in Chennai.
Keep reading to know some tools and best practices to engage your women employees and support their transition back to the office. Here are some ways you can help them and retain them eventually.
Engage with women during their break
One of the best practices organizations can follow to make transition seamless would be to stay connected and engaged with women employees even when they are on break. Creating a group on social media platforms and sharing updates about the organization and newer job options one could explore, lifestyle updates, caring for mental health et.al can be a great start that can boost the morale of women on a break to stay positive.
By staying connected with women during their break and enquiring about their conditions, you can determine how you can support them. It will help you gauge when they might return and create empathy in your team.
“Imagine it is the summer holidays and you are cut off from your friends while sitting at home. Would you be able to interact with them like old times the moment you go back to school? If not, then treat your women the same way. We always use social media to engage with our women at home. We involve them in our meetings if they are up for it and take their opinions for decisions – this keeps them in the loop about the company and our new clients,” said the project manager of a reputed firm in Chennai.
By staying connected with your employees and ensuring they are in touch with the rest of your team, will help women feel at ease while transitioning.
But what if the women are not able to join calls or interact with the team? What if they are in conditions that drive them to get disconnected? How do you create the connection back again?
We will discuss these hiccups next!
Learning sessions and small projects to welcome them back
Learning sessions and upskilling projects that can be self-paced will not just boost the confidence but also make women who are on a break to stay updated. You could have a short learning session to bring your employees back to speed about what the company is up to.
“One of our employees went on her maternity break two years back. Two weeks before she was to join back after staying disconnected from us, the team sent her a compiled video. The video spoke about all the ongoing projects in the business. The new clients, new employees, who left the team during the break, and the jobs she would have to do once she is back. We allotted a new client to her, and she was able to read up all about it during her break. When she joined back, she could handle the client on her own from scratch,” said a sales manager at a reputed banking firm in Bengaluru.
Start with small projects or give an entirely new project to the woman. This will help her catch on quickly and manage the project effectively.
Support them and offer consultation services
Some of your employees may require support for time management and work management. They do not have time to get work done or need help from other employees. A job that requires two people may have been given to them to manage on their own.
They cannot get a task done on their own and need to collaborate or brainstorm with others. Or they get free time only early in the morning or late at night when your other employees are not available.
In such cases, offer them consultation services on how they can manage their work and time. How they can collaborate with other employees. Even some emotional support for employees who need it. It always helps to care and pay attention to their needs – every person manages situations differently.
Offer remote jobs and half days
Allow the employees to join back at their own pace. They must take care of the baby at home and cannot leave the baby at daycare all day. In such cases, allow her to take a half day off and head home early.
Or give her the option to work from home or work flexible hours. Gauge the productivity of the work done and not the availability of hours worked. Encourage them by offering them some legroom and allowing them to work flexibly for the first three months after they are back.
Daycare at the office – a possibility?
Not all mothers can leave their babies at home with a babysitter or guardian or with a baby monitor! They would want to have their new babies under close watch. Having a daycare facility at your organization will make an enormous difference for mothers.
If they can take short breaks during work to nurse their babies and return, they can work more productively and without stress. It also helps to have a maternity section in your women’s restrooms where mothers can breastfeed their babies. Certain amenities would also come in handy for them.
Seek coaching and support
Coaching can help women and teams during their transformation. A certified coach can help companies stay in touch with women and empathize with them. They can also help women return seamlessly and develop connections with their teams again. It makes a significant difference as the things often left unsaid are voiced out.
With a coach or counselor offering their support, you can voice out your feelings and sort them out. For example, if the team is making active efforts to help a woman and yet she feels something is lacking, a coach can help. They can guide women and function as the bridge between them and the organization.
“I am grateful for the warm welcome I received after my accident. But it felt like people were consciously trying to help me and were trying to make me comfortable. I felt like a ticking time bomb as people were being careful around me and were afraid, I would explode. But I found it hard to tell them to their faces that they should stop forcing their kindness on me. It would have been plain rude to say so,” said an HR professional at an email database provider in Salem, India.
Let us sum up
Women are essential to driving any organization. It lies on the organization to support our women who themselves are pillars of the business. Try to welcome back women with small projects and have amenities in place for them to feel comfortable.
Something as small as having curtains in restrooms for them to have some privacy would make a world of difference to them. Try to accommodate their flexible work hours and create an environment that runs on empathy.
At every stage, build their confidence, revive their skills, and get them in the flow with employee consultations and exercises. Ensure that they are emotionally supported and mentally prepared to get back into the groove of things and work at their own pace.
Teach your other employees how to adjust to the changes and make initiatives to be patient with women who are returning to work. Sometimes all it takes is a little patience and empathy to make someone feel comfortable and confident to perform well!
To know more about welcoming your women back to work and extracting their best work from them, click here.