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Helping Employees Re-enter the Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green  October 26, 2010 09:00 AM

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The reality today is that more employers are hiring workers who have been out of the workforce for a period of time. Perhaps your new employee is a former stay-at-home-mom who decided it was time to get back to work, or perhaps she was enticed out of retirement after her employer discovered her skills couldn't be easily replaced. Some new workers will have recently experienced a prolonged period of unemployment because of the current economic conditions. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over the past year the median duration of joblessness has been more than 19 weeks, which is the highest level it's been since the BLS started tracking it in 1967.

Whatever the scenario, employers should be aware that employees re-entering the workforce may initially be more productive if provided with some extra care to make their transition back to work smooth and successful. Here are some tips for helping the formerly unemployed successfully re-enter the workforce:

One of the first steps is to help new employees calm their new job jitters. Many employees who re-enter the workforce experience anxiety and fears of performing poorly. Keep an eye out for stress-related symptoms like low self-esteem, fear of making mistakes on the job, difficulty concentrating or insomnia. Some specific ideas are to:

  • Create a personal plan for success - a plan that articulates what is expected in the new job, how they will be measured and defines success will help the new employee focus and alleviate assumptions and miscues.
  • Pair them with a mentor - introduce and connect the new employee with a veteran staff member who can not only 'show them the ropes' but also provide perspective on workplace culture. The mentoring can be informal -- where you simply make the introduction and let the new employee know that the veteran is there if they need them; or more formal, in which case you orchestrate planned meetings or events.
  • Offer counseling - if a valued employee is struggling with adjusting to the workplace it may be beneficial to arrange for professional counseling sessions. Depending on the need and your organization's resources, these could range from sessions with the internal HR department, group workshops with an outside professional or one-on-one sessions with a specialist.

If it's a life change that has kept someone out of the workplace, e.g. caring for family, tending to health issues or other personal reasons, try to understand the life change and its impact on the person's work performance. And if possible be flexible to the employee's needs while holding the person accountable to results and high performance.

Perhaps your new employee is actually a former employee as well. According to a Career Builder survey of 2,924 hiring managers, 26 percent of employers who had laid people off in recent years were planning on bringing some of those layoff casualties back. There are a lot of benefits to rehiring former employees, including cost-effectiveness, efficiency, higher retention rates and faster on-boarding processes.

For employers looking to maintain relationships with former employees and incorporate them in a candidate pool, an online alumni network can be extremely helpful. Whether you create a custom web site or intranet for this purpose, or utilize Facebook and/or LinkedIn, an online network allows you to keep alumni updated on company news and job openings. The effort you make toward alumni relations can range from maintaining a database with individual contact information and skill sets to organizing events for alumni.

Many of the tips I mention above are considered good general workplace practices for all employees, and are particularly important now in order to adjust to a "new normal" workplace that includes managing employees whose career paths have been affected by the Great Recession.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.

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