Returning to Work After a Career Break

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The types of career break

It’s not just furloughed workers who will have to transition back to work following an absence. There are also those who have:

  • Been made redundant - whether as a result of COVID-19 or for other reasons
  • Taken maternity or paternity leave
  • Suffered from a physical or mental illness
  • Taken a sabbatical
  • Been caring for a loved one
  • Taken extended time off for burnout or stress

Whatever the reason for the career break, it is common to feel anxious about returning to work. You might be worried about returning to an altered workplace environment or be concerned about changes to your role. Alternatively, if you’re going to be working from home, the idea of getting back into the fold without the support of your colleagues and supervisors might be daunting. The shock of getting back to work can be exacerbated by these changes and prevent you from fully engaging with your work.

5 tips for returning to work

Although the prospect of returning to work after a career break can be daunting, there are several steps you can take to help you move forward.

1.Consider a phased return

Rather than going back to a full-time job immediately, you could ask your employer if they’d consider a phased return to work. For example, you could use annual leave to make a shorter week for the first month or reduce your hours temporarily. If you can’t negotiate a phased return, make your first day back a Wednesday or Thursday. That will give you time to get used to things and feel more comfortable, safe in the knowledge that some weekend respite isn’t too far away.

2. Maintain contact with colleagues and superiors

Taking a career break can lead to a loss of social contact with colleagues and supervisors, which will only exacerbate the anxiety you feel about your return. Checking in from time to time with your employer and making an effort to keep in touch with your colleagues will help to smooth the transition back to work. They can keep you abreast of new faces, new processes and any important news you might have missed while you’ve been away.

Research published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation found that maintaining communication during their absence was one of the three most helpful practices for breast cancer survivors when returning to work. Participating in the planning of their return to work and having flexibility in their work schedule were the other two.

3.Trial your new routine

This tip is specifically for new parents who are returning to work after maternity or paternity leave. If you used to think getting up and out to work was a drag, now you’ll be doing it with a new arrival and all the extra jobs that brings. It’s well worth practicing your morning routine before you’re due back so you have some idea of what needs to be done and how long it’s all going to take. It can take several weeks to perfect a new routine, so it makes sense to start early.

4.Ask for help if you need it

It’s very easy for your employer to assume that everything is going well if you don’t ask for help. It could be that you need someone to teach you how to use a new piece of software or that there are certain workplace adaptations you’d like to be made to allow you to work comfortably and perform at your best. Few of us enjoy asking for help, but it makes sense to remove any obstacles early on that could inhibit your success.

5.Review your home life and career goals

It’s all too easy to get sucked back into the day-to-day reality of employment and lose sight of the bigger picture such as your career goals and your work-life balance. Once you’ve been back at work for a couple of months, take the time to review your home life and your career goals to see if you’re happy with where things are heading.


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