Re-entering the workforce after an extended leave can pose a number of challenges for your members. They may find themselves lacking specific skills, unsure of benefits and perhaps nervous about a new daily routine. Here are four strategies for effectively re-engaging your members and making them comfortable in a new role, ultimately helping to ease their transition back into the workplace.
1. Focus on Education and Mentoring
If they've been out of the workforce for an extended period of time, returnees to the workforce may feel that they no longer possess the skills needed to be effective at their jobs. Whether that shortcoming is real or just perceived, reassure unconfident members by introducing them to tools that can coach them through building or strengthening their skills. If a job site offers specific training courses, help members find more information and sign up. Then, go a step further and see to it that they have the appropriate time off for that course.
If a member prefers to conduct training at home or after hours, suggest classes held by the union, conferences, free online tools such as iTunes U or the Microsoft Office 365 Training Center or courses at a local library, college or community center. Depending on the industry, even volunteering can help a member learn vital skills, and the union can leverage preexisting partnerships to connect members with the right organization.
If these options aren't feasible, recommend websites designed for self-directed research on job-related skills. Also consider reaching out to other members who might be willing to act as a mentor for the returnee and answer job-specific questions, offer on-the-job training and provide insight into current trends in the industry.
2. Help Members With Managing Benefits
Health insurance is constantly changing, and as members re-enter the workforce, they should be updated about what kind of coverage they can expect. Start with the basics: Review the health plan's copays, coinsurance, prescription coverage and provider network restrictions. Provide contact information for a union representative who can address questions or concerns, and direct returning members to the health insurer's website to verify whether their current primary care providers or specialists are covered.
If the member provides ongoing care for a child or sick family member, highlight any specific resources available through the union or workplace. Additionally, let returnees know about other benefits they may not be aware of, such as a pension or other retirement funds. Your members may not have retirement on the mind as they re-enter the workforce, but it's good practice to remind them of the benefit for future planning.
3. Assist in Developing New Routines
No matter how long a member has been out of the workforce, chances are they'll need time to adjust to the routine of being back on the job. Based on individual members' needs, provide suggestions for acclimating themselves to both the job and the hours.
Accommodations can make this transition easier. If a member is a nursing mother, make sure they have access to a private space and time to pump. If they're returning from caring for a loved one, confirm the employer is abiding by their schedule so they can return home on time.
Remind your members that the union is there to support them through the transition and is prepared to act as their voice if an employer isn't fulfilling members' working hours, benefits or accommodations. Members should have contact information for their local union representative as well as instructions for how to escalate grievances.
4. Build a Community
Beyond benefits and workplace safety, your union should act as a community where returning members can meet others, find answers to questions and locate activities and events. Once members are back on the job, encourage them to attend union functions to get to know their peers and better understand what the union does to support its membership. Reinforce your position as an advocate by drawing on the experience of members who have gone through the re-entry process themselves and may have new ideas about how to make the transition easier.
There's a certain amount of natural stress that comes with entering the workforce after an extended absence, but the union is poised to step in to alleviate members' apprehensions. By ensuring your members have access to union resources and the support of the union community at large, you're putting them on the path to success.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.