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How to Support Employees Returning to the Workplace Essay

Employers are offering more generous parental leave policies and other family-friendly benefits and practices to help employees better manage their work-life balance. In fact, the , conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), found that the number of family-based perks employers offer has increased each year in recent years. What's more, 34 percent of the companies surveyed now offer paid maternal leave, and 24 percent offer paid paternal leave.

While more employers are actively providing such accommodations to employees needing time off to handle personal matters, some are just now starting to think about the next step: What happens when those employees return to work?

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Some employees return from leave to work at the same organization, while others take a much longer career break and come back to the job market to work with a new employer. No matter what the situation, returning to work after an extended leave can be challenging for employees. But it's a challenge that employers can and should support their employees through.

As organizations begin to think about return-to-the-workplace strategies, a new set of best practices can be expected to take hold in the near future which benefit employees and their families. Here's a look at what some of those best practices might look like, and how to take small steps toward these strategies today.

The future: re-entry programs

Organizations will have to begin developing programs to help reintroduce employees to the workplace after parental or family leave. This supports employees' re-entry and acclimation back into the workplace. There are some tech companies already taking action toward this reality.

, for example, created a program called which is focused on relaunching women into the workforce after a career break. Women participate in the program for 20 weeks during which they work on projects to refresh and expand their skills and experience. Participants are paid for their time, and those who do well are hired full-time at the end of the program. In this way, it gives both returning professionals and employers a trial run, helping employees to get back up to speed and employers to find the best talent.

What you can do today

While launching an entire program may seem like a massive initiative, you can take small steps toward that goal by revamping your onboarding. Just as onboarding is targeted for different positions and experience levels for new hires, employers create an onboarding course and resources specific to returning employees.

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An onboarding program for returning employees can review the latest trends and industry updates, include an orientation to new technology and systems and more. The goal here is to provide professionals with the information and tools they need to quickly get back up to speed.

The future: job-sharing

Job-sharing allows professionals to spend more time at home by "sharing" work responsibilities with a co-worker. Essentially, two or more people are hired for the same job on a part-time basis, and they work together to complete the full responsibilities for that role.

This arrangement is especially attractive to new parents and can help those returning from parental leave to transition back to full-time work without having to sacrifice time with their families. Job-sharing isn't a popular offering today — just 9 percent of employers surveyed by IFEBP currently offer it. But, it has promise to grow in popularity in the future.

What can be done today

Job-sharing is a relatively new practice, but employers can offer new parents a similar work-life balance with flexible schedules. It can be a realistic practice for parents, and 46 percent of those in the IFEBP survey said they currently offer compressed work weeks or flexible schedules.

Talk with your returning employees to set a schedule that fits well with their lifestyle, but also meets the needs of their role and the business.

The future: employee support groups

As more employers offer generous parental leave policies, more employees will take advantage of them. So, an employer could potentially have a whole group of professionals who have returned to work.

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These employees might meet regularly with a mentor to talk about their challenges, successes, questions and concerns about being back in the workplace. The mentor and group would offer advice and help guide these professionals to success. This would create a source of support within the workplace.

What can be done today

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While support groups for those returning from leave are still a ways off, employers can help professionals, with regular check-ins with leadership. According to a 2016 conducted by Gallup, 44 percent of millennials surveyed, who said their manager holds regular meetings with them, are engaged, compared with just 20 percent of those who don't meet with their managers regularly.

Talk to returning employees on a weekly basis. Check in with them about any questions they may have, tools they may need or anything they may be struggling with. Some extra attention at first can better help returning employees make a smooth transition and clear up any confusion on their part.

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