Despite a challenging 18 months in tech hiring, it remains true that in today’s talent landscape, attracting and retaining diverse, experienced professionals is crucial for sustained business success. Individuals re-entering the workforce after a break – also known as career returners – represent this precise, in-demand pool of people. At Tech Returners, we regularly witness the transformative impact of returners but more importantly, this sentiment is echoed by companies such as Booking.com, The Guardian and OnTheBeach.com. Returners have brought to these businesses and many others, a wealth of skills, experience, and diverse perspectives. If your business already recognises this value and is proactively hiring returners – we applaud you. But a key question remains, after hiring how do you ensure returners are set up for seamless integration and long term success in your business? Enabling returners to demonstrate the full picture of their power requires thought; it involves tailored onboarding practices that foster a sense of inclusivity and belonging. Here are five inclusive onboarding strategies for career returners.
5 Ways to Create an Inclusive Onboarding Experience for Career Returners
1) Pre-Start Date Communication
Start early! Stay connected with returners after offer acceptance, providing information about ways of working, connection opportunities, and any pre-work activities or expectations.
- Onboarding buddy: Why not establish a designated onboarding buddy whom Returners can connect with before their start date? This person can share insights into the company culture, answer any questions, and even provide a virtual tour of the workplace. This proactive approach helps alleviate pre-start jitters and creates a welcoming atmosphere.
- Welcome packs: If it’s within your budget, send a personalised welcome package with branded items, essential information, and a warm note expressing your enthusiasm! This can make a returner feel welcomed and like they’re part of the team before they’ve even started – particularly impactful in a hybrid or remote working environment
- Virtual coffee chats: Optional virtual ‘coffee chats’ between the returner and their team members is a great way to introduce new faces before the potentially more daunting and overwhelming ‘Day One’ introductions!
- Pre-boarding tasks: Provide access to company resources like training modules or internal social platforms to kickstart their learning and discovery journey. But ensure that you set out any expectations so as not to pressure your new hires into completing optional or mammoth tasks before their start date!
2) Personalised Onboarding Plan
Tailor the onboarding programme to individual needs and experiences. Take time to understand skills gaps and consider relevant training, while acknowledging existing knowledge and strengths.
- Customise to preferred learning style: By leveraging what you know about your new hire/s, develop a customised onboarding plan consisting of role-specific activities and resources tailored to their unique learning preferences. This may involve tailoring training materials to their preferred learning style, aligning resources with their interests and career objectives, or facilitating access to relevant support networks. This approach ensures a personalised and effective experience. Your new hires will feel supported and engaged and it will help them build the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their roles.
- Celebrate difference: Our experience working with amazing individuals returning to tech has taught us that each returner has a unique story and set of skills to offer. Recognising and embracing these differences will not only contribute to the success of your team but also position your organisation as a leader in fostering inclusivity within the tech industry.
3) Mentorship and Peer Pairing
Pair returners with experienced colleagues or team peers who can offer guidance, answer questions, and even provide listening support. This fosters a sense of belonging and eases the often nerve-wracking transition back into work.
- Mentors: It can be hugely beneficial to establish a formal mentorship programme to connect returners with experienced colleagues who can offer career advice and support. A great example is JP Morgan’s “ReEntry programme” which assigns mentors to guide returners throughout their reintegration within the company.
- Peer pairing: Pair returners with peers within their team for informal support and knowledge sharing. Factorial describes this type of set up as “A knowledge-sharing method used to onboard new employees.” It helps build camaraderie and eases social integration. Check out this great guide as to what the role entails and how it can support new employees.
Case Study: Boeing Mentors
Treat your onboarding period like Boeing treats its returners. The company offers a Return Flight programme helping parents, caregivers and others return to their careers after time out. Throughout, participants are paired with and supported by “a professional coach, mentor, and buddy,” to develop them personally and fully enhance their return experience.
4) Flexible and Inclusive Workplaces
Career breaks are taken for a variety of reasons: maybe to start a business, bring up children, grieve or to recover from health issues. Whatever the reason, it’s worth remembering that some returners may have unique needs, such as dependency demands or a phased return. A way to attract and retain this top talent is to offer flexible work options and demonstrate inclusivity is a part of company culture.
- Demonstrate inclusivity: Utilise the onboarding process to showcase your company’s dedication to crucial topics like mental health and neurodiversity. Acknowledging these often overlooked but significant aspects of many individuals’ lives assures new employees that the workplace operates inclusively. It signals an open invitation for them to engage in conversations about these topics if they need or wish to do so.
Case Study: Flexible working at Dell
A company which doesn’t shy away from offering flexibility to returners is Dell. During its returner programme, the company offers flexible working and Friday afternoons free to up-skill with a wealth of self-learning courses for women returning to work. And once hired, flexible working continues allowing people like Sandra the opportunity to get back to the industry she loves whilst still being a Mum. These simple considerations attract not only women to the industry, but parents or caregivers who may otherwise never return to the career they want.
5) Ongoing Support and Development
Don’t stop at onboarding! Provide ongoing learning opportunities, career development support, and regular feedback to ensure returners feel seen, valued and equipped for success.
- Build community: As already mentioned, consider implementing mentor programmes or voluntary, employee-led groups (Employee Resource Groups) whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organisations they serve. This ensures diverse talent like returners are supported, have a community around them and can take their full selves to work.
- Develop skills and feedback loops: Introduce regular skill-building workshops, and regular check-ins or feedback sessions to foster a supportive, open and thriving environment for returners to flourish in their roles.
- Progression plans: A great way to retain and develop returners (and employees in general!) is to give a clear route to progression. Provide transparent information about potential career pathways within the company. Outline achievable milestones and promotions, giving returners a clear understanding of their growth prospects within your company.
Inclusive Onboarding: A Strategic Investment for Workplace Diversity
Remember, inclusive onboarding is an investment, not a cost. By creating a welcoming and supportive environment, you gain access to a valuable talent pool, fostering a diverse and thriving workforce that drives innovation and success.
Keen to embrace the power of returners? We recognise this article provides multiple onboarding strategies for career returners that you could run with, but taking it all on at once can overwhelm! Instead start by assessing your current onboarding practices and identifying small achievable areas for improvement that will have an impact. Successfully onboarding career returners is not only achievable but also highly rewarding. By recognising the value they bring and implementing small actions, businesses can create a workplace that thrives on diversity and experience.
Learn more about how your business can benefit from hiring returners with our new TR4 programme!