Return to work with confidence after a break

Return to work with confidence after a break

It can feel like a replay of your first ever day at work when you return to an employer after a long absence.

Whether you’re coming back from maternity or paternity leave, time off to care for a loved one, a career break, a sabbatical or stress recuperation - to name the most common reasons - picking up where you left off is no picnic.

It’s natural to worry if you haven’t pitched for work for ages; have missed being a key team member; feel your skills have been sidelined; or haven’t helped on projects with colleagues.

In short, there’s a fear you’ve fallen behind in your career.

Yet you still have your unique ability to do your job that helped get you where you were in the first place.

If you’re full of trepidation about a return to work, here are five steps to help turn it into an easier transition.

Hook up with your old networks

If you haven’t been in regular touch with former colleagues, workmates or team members, give them a call to catch up.

Your old network can be a brilliant source of support to help you get back into a work groove.

They can bring you up to date on any major changes, new hires, work challenges and problems in the pipeline – and suggest key seminars or meetings to attend to get up to speed.

If you’ve been off on maternity or paternity leave, a ‘keep in touch day’ can be an excellent way to keep up with what’s happening in your workplace.

Check your other rights when on leave to make sure you don’t miss out.

Get ready for a return to routine

Going back to work isn’t just about reprising your role – it’s about a return to your everyday routine, too.

If you’ve been caring for a relative for 18 months, settling back into structured work days – especially with a long commute – could come as a shock.

To soften the potential blow, try to ‘rebalance’ your daily routine before you go back – even the smallest of steps will help.

For example, if you’ve been able to rise late for months, start getting out of bed at 6am to reignite the habit (and go to bed earlier too).

Prep for the commute: rather than dive straight back in, a few test-runs could help you get reacquainted with the hurly-burly.

And if you’ve switched off from current affairs for months, get back in the habit of listening to the news. Being on top of events can help you slide more easily into a workplace rhythm.

In the first couple of weeks back, be prepared to politely turn down any requests or tasks that you don’t quite feel you’re ready to take on. Be ready to explain why – many will understand it takes time to adjust to a busy work environment after a long absence.

After a prolonged spell out of the workplace, you may well feel obliged to say ‘yes’ to requests you wouldn’t normally consider. However, it’ll be far more important to find your feet first. Being able to give your work tasks a priority is a vital skill to pick up again so be confident to tackle them at your own pace and avoid taking on too much.

This will help free you up to focus on what matters most.

Bring your business knowledge bang up to date

‘Knowledge is power’ runs the old adage – and if you’re on top of trends in your industry, you can have greater confidence in what your employer is up to and be able to contribute.

If you’ve been out of the loop for months (or longer), take a crash course in the challenges facing your company and the broader economy too.

Try following industry leaders on social media – Ceoworld magazine’s list of top CEOs and business leaders on Twitter is a good place to start.

Join relevant groups you like on LinkedIn and subscribe to specialist trade publications – both and WHSmith stock an extensive list which cover most industries.

Consider flexible working

If the thought of going back to work full-time still seems too much, you could consider flexible working instead.

This can help you strike a better work-life balance and offer a more gradual way to get back into the swing of things.

Many companies actively promote options such as working from home, flexitime or a nine-day fortnight.

Even if your employer isn’t one of them, it must legally consider your request to do so. Our guide details the available options.

Make a plan for ‘day 1’  

Once you’re in a comfortable frame of mind about returning to work, prepare for your first day back.

Consider your priorities, the hours you want to do and any areas you think you may want support with.

Talk to your manager and create a plan you’re both happy with. With the right information and support, transition doesn’t have to be scary. And remember to take care of yourself emotionally and physically; if you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.

One final tip: see if you can return to work on a Wednesday. This way, you won’t have to tackle a full week straightaway.


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