The end of furlough will make ‘returners’ mainstream


Returner programmes – which take the concept of an internship and make it relevant to older workers who have taken a career break – have been around for a good number of years, particularly in sectors where women are under-represented. But with furlough winding down to a close at the end of September, many UK employers are getting set to take part in a returners programme on a scale that has never been seen before.

It will be interesting to see what effect this has on re-shaping the workforce, but it’s worth noting the recent findings of a poll by Vodafone which found that women are almost twice as likely as men to experience a loss of confidence on returning to work after a significant amount of time off.

In the survey of 1,000 workers, 37 per cent of those who had been off for a year or more reported a loss of confidence in their own ability. Broken down by gender, 42% of women were affected by this, compared to just 24% of men.

The report also highlighted that women are likely to experience more barriers than men when returning to work, with caring responsibilities and childcare costs the most common obstacles.

Forty-five percent of women cited caring commitments as a challenge to returning to work, compared to 30% of men. Meanwhile, 46% of women said childcare costs were an obstacle, versus just 25% of their male counterparts.

Dozens of studies and surveys throughout the pandemic have repeatedly pointed to the fact that despite efforts to promote more equal sharing of parenting and other caring commitments between the sexes, women still take on most of this unpaid work. The toll this has taken on many careers has been heavy, particularly when schools and nurseries were forced to close, with some leaving work altogether as the strain became too much.

This raises concerns that women will again be disproportionately impacted as businesses start the process of bringing workers back from furlough leave, especially as data from HMRC has shown that more women were furloughed than men.

Employers must be mindful of this and should consider setting up support systems for those coming back to work, especially those with caring responsibilities. A staff network where returners can share their experiences is a good start; even better, perhaps, would be a peer-to-peer mentoring programme connecting furloughed workers with non-furloughed staff to rebuild confidence through the support of a colleague.

Search the latest jobs at

Posted on June 4, 2021