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The last eighteen months have been difficult for all of us: lockdowns, self-isolation, furlough and social distancing are all unknown words back in 2019, yet are now in common parlance, even in our junior schools! Some industries have fared better than others too: everyone seemed to be hiring extra delivery drivers as our shopping habits moved even further online and the manufacturers of face masks must have thought it was Christmas when the orders for PPE came flooding in! However, many people were not so lucky and a lot of people were forced into furlough as their industries were closed by Government restrictions. As these restrictions have been steadily lifted over the last few months, people are gradually being encouraged back into work – theatres and cinemas have reopened and offices are starting to refill with workers. But is it that easy to return to work after time away, whether on furlough, for health reasons or having a family? And how will people returning to work in the early years sector cope? In this article, we look at some of the issues faced by people coming back to work for whatever reason, and give you and them some tips to help.

What are the issues?

Lack of confidence

One of the main problems that a lot of people have when they return to work after a break, is feeling less confident about their role and what they know about their industry, so it is important to make sure that any returning staff are brought up-to-speed with any new policies, legal requirements or protocols as soon as possible. It would be a good idea to run through an induction programme again for returning staff and make sure they feel confident about anything they have missed in the interim. Feeling anxious and unsure about starting anything again is totally understandable and we all feel like this at some point in our lives. As an employer, you can ease this feeling in your employees by making sure you offer support and guidance and keep lines of communication open.

You could offer the employee a mentor or a buddy who they can check-in with on a regular basis to discuss any problems or queries they have. If you do this though, make sure you set aside some protected time for these meetings to occur otherwise you may find that they get missed in the general melee of everyday work. You may also need to allay people’s fears for returning after COVID, so make sure your protocols are clear and published for keeping people safe.

Lack of training/qualifications

If you have people who are returning to work after having a family or later in life, you might find that they have qualifications that are now out-of-date or were taken some years ago. This could be an issue in because things such as Paediatric First Aid qualifications (and DBS checks) need to be renewed and up-to-date in order for them to be valid, so it is important that you check the validity of their qualifications before they start. Many people may not have studied or been in a formal learning environment for years either. If you need to upskill them, there are many CPD courses that are inexpensive and easy to study, often which are now online, which can help reintegrate staff and make them feel more confident too. Parenta has a lot of online CPD courses that are time and cost-effective covering many aspects of early years work from “Starting Work” to “Autism Awareness” which you can access here.

Changes to working patterns

You may find that when people return to work, your staffing requirements have changed and you may now need them to change their working patterns, for example cover early or late shifts or work different days than they did before. You cannot assume either that they will want to, or be available for exactly the same hours/days as before, because the staff member may also have had time to think about what works best for them. You may have the right to expect exactly the same hours as a previous contract if you furloughed staff, but negotiation is key here if you want to keep a happy and effective workforce, so talk to your existing or new staff about your needs and ensure these details are all sorted out prior to anyone restarting. If you can create a win-win scenario that suits everyone, you can create an atmosphere which will benefit your business.

Management angst

One of the issues of people returning to work after an extended period of time away, is that inevitably, it is often difficult to come back at the same level they left and they may find that younger or seemingly less experienced people have been promoted above them, who may have previously been below them in the management structure. This can be a tricky situation to deal with, but with understanding and good communication, these issues can be overcome. If people have been away, then inevitably, things in their work will have changed and they may not easily accept some of the changes that have occurred. If they were the room leader when they left, and a new room leader has been appointed in the time they were away, then it may be difficult to incorporate the returnee into the same room and it may be wiser to shift things around so that they have responsibility elsewhere. It is important here to have honest conversations with everyone about your expectations, their expectations, everyone’s roles and responsibilities and to agree these in advance.

Top tips to help people returning to work

  • Plan for returnees and make sure they know what their roles and responsibilities will be, and what you are expecting from them
  • Run through an induction programme for returning staff
  • Consider having a mentor or buddy system to help
  • Consider a phased, or staggered return
  • Look at the training needs of all staff and ensure you have good CPD training available to upskill returning staff
  • Keep all lines of communication open and check-in with your staff on a regular basis
  • If you have staff taking a leave of absence or time off for other reasons, who intend to return to work at some point, make sure you keep them in the communication loop by sending them newsletters, meeting minutes or other staff communications as appropriate
  • Praise your staff often so they know how they are getting on and that they are valued

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