The What, Why, and How of Returnship Programs

1 minutes

Returning to work after a break can be tough. Whether it’s a sabbatical, parental leave, sick leave or time off for any other reason – re-integrating to office life can be a difficult transition.

That’s where returnships come in. 

A returnship is a program that’s used to train, support and readjust your people to work life and culture.

But what are returnships, and how can they be implemented in your organisation?

This article answers all your questions and more! Read on and learn all you need to know about returnships and how to take the first steps to implement them.

So, what is a returnship?

A returnship is like an internship, except it comes in the form of return to work program later on in your career. It’s a nice play on words, as you can see, but it’s also a beneficial strategy for companies to undertake, as it can ease your employees back into work gradually and with dedicated support. 

Furthermore, returnships can be formal and paid like an internship, or part of your re-onboarding process. It all depends on the nature of your company, how you choose to reinforce learning, and also, what your team’s needs are, which one you choose. 

What are the benefits of a returnship?

There are countless benefits, not the least of which is that you, the employer, are shown to understand that not everyone has the same career trajectory. Some people go on paternity or maternity leave and become more heavily focused on family life. Others have different commitments or are forced to go on sick leave. Maintaining a good relationship with your talented employees through life’s ups and downs is an essential part of long-term retention. 

For your people a returnship means that they can catch up on changes and not feel overwhelmed. A lot may have changed in their absence; There are technological changes, practices, and new operating procedures, as well as the changing of policies, culture, and communication techniques.

Otherwise, your team can use the returnship to learn new skills, rediscover their love of the workplace, and transition into a full-time position without getting overwhelmed. Plus, it is important to be supportive and create an invaluable network for that purpose, especially when the circumstances around the employee in question’s absence particularly call for it.

A new dad balances feeding his baby and workingWho can a returnship support?

As we’ve mentioned above, there are lots of people that a returnship can support. These include:

1. New parents returning to work

Going on parental leave as a new parent is an exciting and at times daunting experience. Welcoming a new baby into the world can be physically, mentally and emotionally overwhelming. And going back to work afterwards, now with a newborn to care for, requires extra support as you learn to manage caring for your child with your working life. 

Remember, new parents of all genders need support. As well as people that have adopted or fostered a child, so make sure your returnship is inclusive!

2. Someone returning from sick leave

People don’t choose to go on sick leave, it’s often a stressful experience in which the support of our networks is needed to get through. In some cases, the returning party might have been away a long time with a serious condition, and additional needs to help them work effectively again. Make sure you recognise their new situation and support them to reintegrate into their role. 

3. Anyone returning from sabbatical

Particularly for employees that have been with a company for years, sabbaticals can be a fantastic way of offering flexibility to your people while keeping the door open for them to return. 

Whether someone needs a career break to travel, care for someone else or to prevent burnout, a returnship is a terrific way to bring them gradually back.

4. Colleagues that have taken a career break

The same goes for those who simply need a break from their careers. Perhaps they have gone on a two-year-long travel spree, or time away from the office has helped them to realign their work/life balance. A returnship is a way to show them that you value their skills and appreciate them back.

Building an impactful mentoring program e-book: download here How do I set up an effective return to work program?

Here are our top tips for setting up a returnship to support your people:

1. Implement a mentoring program

Mentoring is a vital aspect of returnships as it allows the returning employee to communicate their needs, and also collaborate with their mentor on their goals, and daily objectives. It simply adds that extra level of one on one support that will allow them to thrive even more upon their official return. 

2. Figure out the logistics

Figuring out how to implement it starts with logistics. Firstly, determine it’s parameters. Generally, a returnship should apply to employees who have been away for a minimum of a year, but there are cases where it could be 5 or 10 years. Then, you might wish to implement a more long-term returnship plan. Either way, this step is all about determining the duration of the program and what it entails.

3. Communicate the returnship well

You may want to write a job description for the role, after deciding which employees wish to take part in the program. You will need to identify the role concisely like with any job so that there is clarity on what the program entails and how the person will transition back into their role. 

4. Keep a balanced scheme

When you launch your scheme, you will want it to be thorough as well as diverse, so make sure that it trains returning staff on all of the key skills including communication skills, technical training, networking, and orientation. Networking is particularly important as it facilitates knowledge-sharing. This will make the scheme beneficial beyond its immediate function and is something that your team can put on their CV. The more recognised your returnship becomes, the greater the benefits in this regard.

The verdict

Returnships are a great program to add to your organisation’s overall package and they have many benefits for your company and its employees. They return with autonomy, feeling fresh and authentic, and generally many moons better about their position in your company than before. This has some positive effects for your company too such as higher productivity, a more positive workplace culture, and greater collaboration between team members.

Check out our other guides below for more information on supporting and developing your people effectively: 

How to Create a Mentoring Culture in Your Workplace

How to Supercharge Your Career Progression

How to Take Responsibility for Your Personal Development

5 Employee Retention Strategies You Can Action Today

Build a People Development Strategy That Works For You

The Power of Knowledge Sharing 

The Cost of Not Doing Mentoring is Too Great to Ignore

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