Virtual onboarding for returner programme

UBS has continued to onboard for its award-winning returner programme throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Return to work


What happens to returner programmes during lockdown? You might think that reduced recruitment would spell bad news for returners, but some employers are continuing to recruit. UBS has continued to onboard returners during lockdown, with two being hired in the last few months and another in the pipeline.

They have been recruited through the banking company’s unique and award-winning Career Comeback returner programme which hires returners directly into permanent senior roles.

Because of the nature of the programme, UBS invests a lot in the induction process to make sure returners are able to get straight back to work and have ongoing support. That support has had to be reconfigured in a world where remote working is now the norm.  For instance, normally the induction process would include a UBS experience day which would take place within the first month and where returners would get an insight into employee networks, the structure of the bank and its organisational culture and meet peers. This is now being done virtually and has been working well, says Sophie Robson, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for EMEA.

Moreover, new joiners would normally have some form of compliance training as well as support with their technology set-up and they would have a buddy from their team. In lockdown, many of UBS’ large HR team have volunteered to help with remote onboarding until new joiners feel able to operate on their own.


The two new UK returners have an HR person who checks in on them regularly and in the first six months they have one to one coaching, as part of the Career Comeback programme. They also have access to coaching circles via Skype and regular remote themed roundtables with leaders in place of business insight lunches, led by a senior sponsor.

Other support includes regular webinars on issues such as goal setting and mid-year assessments where Career Comeback veterans give their tips and there are two-day intensive coaching courses, called the Career Comeback experience, where they can talk about everything from their personal brand to how to use their strengths to their advantage. These are conducted on Zoom and include one-to-one break-out sessions. The next one is in July.

Sophie says support for remote workers has to be more structured, given new joiners or others, such as maternity returners, can’t so readily ask a colleague sitting next to them for help.  There is a Facebook page where returners can ask questions and group chat channels to provide a sense of community, for instance.

Extending coaching

UBS is looking to extend coaching for its Career Comeback returners via enhanced Skype calls so people feel less alone and coaches can pick up their body language. Sophie recognises that the challenges of lockdown can damage people’s confidence generally and says that can be worse for returners because of their career gap. “Returners are more likely to apologise about issues such as childcare and be very grateful when they shouldn’t be,” she says. “They earned the role fair and square, but they are more likely to feel they are not meeting expectations.”

Some problems are ones that are not something UBS has control over. One of the recent returners, an investment banker, has had problems as they need to be regulated and the process – an external one – cannot be done online. She has been paired up with a buddy who understands the regulation process. The other returner who onboarded remotely is confident about asking questions and he is taking to remote working really well, says Sophie. Other returners only started just before lockdown so also need extra support and another returner role is in the pipeline.

Sophie says UBS has noted that people are generally reluctant to make career moves at this time which means there may be greater opportunity for returners. She adds that, with more people being furloughed or suffering periods of unemployment, career breaks may become more normalised.



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