Six ways to beat return-to-work demons

Having a career break – whether because of maternity leave, caring for someone, going travelling or ill-health – can result in a serious loss of confidence when you start to think about your return to work.

This feeling is the same regardless of whether you’re returning to the same place or starting somewhere new. You haven’t lost any of your skills, but perhaps they are a bit rusty, or (if you’ve had a long break) your industry has moved on and you feel like you’ve missed some of the more recent developments.

Maybe you want to start a whole new career, having had time to reflect on what you’d like to do. So how do you beat those self-doubt demons and ease yourself back into your return to work with confidence? Here are my top tips.

1. Get yourself ready to return
There’s work to do before Day One of your return to work which will help you feel more confident when you get there. Getting up to speed with your industry is the best way to make yourself feel connected, so read industry publications, brush up your skills, attend local meetings or free training provided by your professional body and grab a coffee with colleagues to catch up on all the news. It will help to know who has left, who has started and who’s now on the senior team. If you’re starting at a new place, invite new colleagues out for coffee in your first few weeks to get those relationships off to a good start.Practical steps could include getting organised with your stationery and new work clothes to help you get back into the work mindset so you feel ready to get back to the 9-5.

2. Set your own success criteria
It’s easy to feel the pressure to reach a certain level in your career but will that really make you happy? Think about what’s important to you in terms of career achievements. Maybe your work-life blend will be the most important factor as you return to work, or maybe the location is a bigger attraction than the salary; whatever is most important to you is personal and about your own unique circumstances.  Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others; it is rarely healthy.

3. Remind yourself of who you are and about your achievements
Your CV and LinkedIn profile are great memory-joggers, reminding you not only of the people in your network, but of your achievements and skills. If you have notes from previous appraisal meetings these can also be useful. Take a read through and remember that, however long ago it was, you have done awesome things in your career and will do again.  Remind yourself of your knowledge, skills, strengths and personal qualities and how you have added value in your previous roles.  Also don’t underestimate any learning you have gained during your career break – whatever the reason for your break there are often many positives you can highlight from that experience.

4. Be the newbie
Even if you’re going back to the same place of work it is useful to act like you’ve never worked there before (it can often feel like it anyway, especially if there has been a lot of change). Ask for a mini induction and make sure to set up a meeting with your manager to discuss any concerns or fears you might have, as well as exchanging expectations of what you’ll be able to achieve and how soon.  Have a good support network of cheerleaders around you both at work and in your home/friendship circle to give you positive nudges as you return to the workplace.

5. Take it easy
A phased return can be the perfect way to ease yourself back into work. Even if it only lasts for a week or two, spending just a few days getting to know the people, places and systems you’ll need to operate in will really help you get back into the swing of things. Don’t underestimate how exhausting commuting and working full time is especially when you have had a longer break, so give yourself chance to get used to it. If you can’t negotiate a phased return/start then you might want to clear your mid-week evenings of social engagements for the first couple of weeks or even rope in extra help to help you transition to the new routine.

6. Exercise your options 
If you are not returning to the same place of work, look out for ‘returnship’ schemes.  There are a number of these schemes being offered by employers to attract skilled people who are returning to work after a break. They are realising that plenty of people could benefit from a more formalised programme with additional training and support to help the transition, as well as recognising that making it easy for skilled and experienced people to return to the workforce has significant benefits for their organisation. Details on PWC’s returnship are here and O2’s here.

If you are looking to return to work after a career break (for whatever reason) and want a chat about how to position it on your CV, I’d be happy to help. Give me a call on 07765 894040.

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