Why what works for mums could work for others

The strategies used to help mums back to work or to stop them falling out of the workforce could be useful for those facing long-term health problems.

Return to work


Last week at a Resolution Foundation meeting to launch a new report on the background to the recent rise in economic inactivity due to health and disability issues one speaker advised policymakers and employers to look at what had worked with other marginalised groups, such as mums who had taken a career break to look after their children and had struggled to get back to work, particularly at the level where they left off.

Professor Paul Gregg called for sick leave to be treated more like maternity leave, including a longer period of both paid and unpaid leave so that people affected could stay in employment longer, with guarantees they could return to their job and not have to look for another, which would likely be on a significantly lower grade and lower pay.

This would create “an intermediate space” where employers still had links and empathy for the employee and could work with them to stop them from falling out of work, he said, adding that both employees and employers should be incentivised to keep connected to the workplace.

Another area where policymakers could learn some useful lessons from working mums is over programmes and initiatives to get those who have taken a career break back to work. Many older workers have dropped out of the workplace since Covid and could do with some targeted support to get back in. They might, like working mums, need more flexible work options to do so. Confidence will likely need to be rebuilt. They could do with mentoring or a returner cohort to rebuild that. We know these things work. Yet in the current economic climate many employers have cut back on returner initiatives. This is despite the fact that labour shortages remain high and the CBI noted that a significant proportion of companies have had to turn down work due to those shortages.

Getting people who can and want to work back to is good for employers, employees and for the country generally. It is also an important reminder of the value of tackling barriers to recruitment and retention for what is a sizable part of the workforce.

This week I listened into a webinar on the future of recruitment in the light of changes at Indeed. Expert after expert spoke of the future of recruitment being about understanding and engaging with specific talent pools. They said the emphasis should be on quality not quantity of applications. Yet, what we have now or will have soon is basically about AI talking to AI – applicants using ChatGPT to file their applications. These will be able to take the keywords in person specifications and draft an application that uses the in seconds.  They will then be sifted by Applicant Tracking Systems based on keywords. Employers could end up with lots of CVs with very little to differentiate them, making their job even harder.

The lesson is that there is a reason HR is called human resources. The human bit matters and there is much to learn from the experience of trying to get mums back to work that can potentially be useful for everyone.

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