Woman on a career break
Image: Oksana Yurlova/Shutterstock

Back to work: How to return from a career break

25 Jan 2017

Returning to work after a career break can be both exciting and scary. But don’t worry, Hays’ Simon Lance will help you go back to work.

The time has come for you to return to work after a career break. You have spent the past few months pursuing a non-career path, be it travelling or other personal reasons. Your mind has switched off from professional working life, your routine is different and you have grown accustomed to a completely different lifestyle.

After the initial excitement over the prospect of seeing familiar faces, being part of a team again and getting stuck into new projects, it is completely normal to consider the above changes and feel slightly unnerved.

You may find yourself questioning how you ever handled the early mornings, went to the gym or saw your friends whilst you were working. You might also feel insecure about your capabilities and wonder: what’s changed in my industry since I’ve left? What if my skills are rusty? Are my team the same? Is my knowledge up to speed?

Whilst colleagues will be patient and accept you need time to get back into the swing of things (you will more than likely have a ‘breaking-in’ period), there are still measures that you can take to adapt to these changes, making your return to work as positive as possible.

Learn from your break

What has your time away from work taught you? Sometimes during the hustle and bustle of professional life, we forget to take care of our health, wellbeing, personal pursuits and relationships. We only start to realise this when we step away from this cycle.

Do you feel relaxed, energised or more fulfilled? If so, why is this?

Maybe it’s because you are getting more sleep, eating proper meals, meditating or exercising. Whatever the reason, think about how you can incorporate it into your new way of life.

For example, you may need to adjust your sleeping routine to ensure you continue to get a good night’s rest once you start working.  In the build-up to your return, start going to sleep and waking up at times that suit your working hours.

In the two weeks before, get up and dressed in the morning when your alarm goes off and be productive. By doing so, you won’t feel tired and out of sync on your first morning back.

Maybe it’s because you have found yourself catching up with old friends, making new ones, seeing more of your family or pursuing new hobbies?

If so, make a pact with yourself to continue along this path, maintaining a work-life balance. It may be a case of improving your productivity during office hours or getting to work early to avoid working those late evenings.

Learn what you can from your career break about what you need to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself. Whether it’s an improved attitude to your health or a better work-life balance, make sure you find ways to keep it up when you return to your job.

Stay connected

You don’t want to feel completely out of touch on your first day back, so try to keep abreast of any fluctuations within your industry and company prior to your return to work.

During the remainder of your career break, keep on top of industry trends by reading press releases and publications. Set up Google Alerts, so that you receive email updates on news related to your sector.

Try to stay in contact with colleagues; whether it’s through social media, WhatsApp, a catch-up over lunch or via phone calls. This will prompt them to keep you informed of any changes to the company, whether they’re job remits, team structures or personnel.

Sharpen up your skills

Whilst a lot of your skills might have become second nature, some may be a little rusty, depending on how long your career break was.

Get a head start and begin testing these in advance. For example, if you are a sales executive, brush up on your product knowledge and start practising the way you pitch to clients.

This may be a good opportunity to improve upon your existing skills or gain new ones. Listen to some podcasts, webinars, or read a book surrounding your specialism. Expanding your knowledge will certainly boost your confidence on your first day back.

Final note

If your career break doesn’t leave you with much free time, adopt a ‘little and often’ approach. For example, you may not be able to commit to an entire ‘keep in touch’ day at work, but you could arrange weekly calls with different members of your team at a more suitable time.

Whilst you might not be able to sit through an hour-long webinar, try listening to a five-minute podcast next time you’re driving or on the train. It’s about doing what works for you.

I would also like to reiterate that you’re not expected to instantly adapt to every change that has occurred since you left. This is simply about controlling the more controllable elements of your wellbeing, work-life balance, skill set and knowledge, thus making your return to work as successful as possible.

By Simon Lance

Simon has over 12 years’ consulting and management experience within the professional recruitment industry in the UK, Australia and China.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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