How Indian companies are betting on ‘returnships’

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Returnship is similar to an internship for experienced workers wishing to re-enter the workforce.

In 2008, Goldman Sachs started a new practice to acquire talent. It got high-potential talent—who were looking to restart their careers after a long absence—back into the job through a small internship programme. Called ‘returnship’, this paid programme offered opportunities in a variety of divisions and a chance to experience the vast network of resources at Goldman Sachs.

It was a novel idea to identify and attract talented resources. Many other companies followed suit. A global listing by iRelaunch features 70 companies offering returnships, out of which 15 are from India or have operations in India, such as Capgemini, Credit Suisse, Eaton, Fidelity, GE, Genpact, Godrej, Goldman Sachs, Unilever, HSBC, Intuit, Morgan Stanley, PayPal, Target and Tata Group.

However, the trend is yet to catch pace in India, and more companies are expected to give it a thought.

Richard Lobo, senior vice-president & head-HR, Infosys, says, “Infosys has a good number of people who returned after a break, be it to pursue an entrepreneurial venture, an educational course or a social cause.”

Richard Lobo

Returnship is feasible when the time gap between an employee’s departure for the break and return to work, isn’t too widespread. Otherwise, it may get difficult to fit the person back into the workplace considering the fast-changing work environment.

Lobo shares that while many Indian organisations may not have a formal programme on returnship, it is also true that if one has been able to build an equity in their stint with the company, they will be more than welcome to join back.

However, Lobo refers more to boomerang employees, whereas returnship is similar to an internship for experienced workers looking to re-enter the workforce.

Lobo explains that a returnship is feasible when the time gap between an employee’s departure for the break and return to work, isn’t too widespread. Otherwise, it may get difficult to fit the person back into the workplace considering the fast-changing work environment.

“More so, even if the gap is large but the field of hobby or an entrepreneurial venture that an individual takes up during a break is related to his job, it may still be easier for organisations to re-orient them back into the workplace. Otherwise, a gap of more than two to three years may make it difficult, both for the individual and the organisation, to get into the returnship mode.”

Sharad Sharma

Longer training periods may be required for jobs that are too technical in nature, whereas re-entry into the support functions may not be too complex.

One of the biggest challenges is the perception and understanding around the purpose of returnships. Most organisations look at it in terms of getting women on a career break back into the workplace, whereas it has much to offer beyond just that.

Sharad Sharma, SVP & head-HR, DHFL Pramerica Life Insurance, shares that returnships are a great way to attract people, who may have taken a break for caregiving or to pursue a passion, or an entrepreneurial venture that did not work out as expected.

“Longer training periods may be required for jobs that are too technical in nature, whereas re-entry into the support functions may not be too complex,” he says.

Besides, “Since everything in India especially works through references, returnship remains more of a concept than a reality here. Mainstream businesses are so target driven that these models kind of take a backseat in practice,” Sharma opines.

On the other hand, on a positive note, he shares that for thought leadership roles, such as consulting or with startups, such programmes could still be seen as feasible and conveniently implementable.

Highlighting some benefits of a returnship programme, Lobo says, “Sabbaticals are also a formal way of allowing people to take a break and get back into the workplace comfortably again.”

“While you can’t prevent people from leaving, returnship is a great way of being in a long-term association with talent that matters to the organisation,” he adds.

Indian businesses are an open window for highly-skilled employees to take breaks and be able to settle back into the workplace again thereafter. This will also help them look beyond just women returnees.

(The views of people interviewed in the article are personal and doesn’t reflect the view of the company they represent.)

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