Dismantling the barriers: Five things Employers can do

19 October 2022 | Blogs, Dr Andy Clempson blog

Employers are vital for creating supportive and flexible work environments that allow returners to flourish in their careers. As such, they have real power to implement change. In this blog, I suggest some actions that employers can take to reduce the barriers returners face.

Firstly, what do I mean by employers? This could be the University where someone works, or any other employer – a company, charity, Learned Society, college, school, government department – the list could go on!


1. Ensure that employment policies at all seniorities (including very senior roles):

    1. allow and encourage flexible work schedules
    2. provide family-friendly benefits (e.g. family allowance, childcare allowance)
    3. make available childcare facilities
    4. allow part-time working
    5. allow hybrid and remote working
    6. allow job sharing
    7. allow compressed hours.

Employers should actively encourage uptake of these policies to embed them into workplace cultures. Championing role-models that demonstrate different working patterns within research would really help.


2. Engage with returners to develop specific, fair, and supportive employment practices.

This could include offering well thought-out family leave policies and improving provision, accessibility, and affordability of childcare services. Reverse-mentoring (where for instance, the Returner mentors their supervisor or their manager) offer a route to gather useful information that may otherwise be missed.


3. Consider an individual’s wellbeing as equally important as research output.

With more flexible and remote working policies the norm, the link between wellbeing at work and at home is more strongly linked than ever. Returners can feel significant pressure to ‘catch up’ to their peers, sometimes at the expense of their own wellbeing. Employers should be aware of this, and be able to identify early signs of poor wellbeing and step in to provide support. It’s very common that part-time workers will work more hours than they are paid for and don’t take lunch breaks. Employers (and supervisors) need to make sure that part-time staff keep to their hours, or are paid for the extra hours they do work and that they do take breaks.


4. Help researchers on a career break stay up to date with developments in their field.

Keeping work email addresses open for previously employed researchers can help them stay connected. Where Universities are hosting conferences and meetings, offer researchers on a career break free attendance. Maintaining memberships to professional bodies and access to University journal subscriptions and libraries really helps.


5. Create a supportive working environment by ensuring the expected behaviours of all staff are clear.

Reporting systems should be in place for incidents of bullying and harassment. Less overtly, systems should also be used to deter more subtle forms of bias, microaggressions and other negative behaviours. There should be an environment where all employees can call out bad practice, even if it is written off as ‘harmless banter’. Sanctions should be imposed for breaches of poor behaviour and incidents should be reported to senior staff and governing bodies.


Have I missed anything? And are these suggestions implementable? If you are an employer and have suggestions on the above, or perhaps new solutions, please email me (Andy Clempson) via a.clempson@surrey.ac.uk

Next up is the final blog in this series focusing on what policy makers can do to reduce barriers that returners face.

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