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How to return to work after a break

You’ve taken leave from work and are ready to return to your job. It may be you’ve taken long service leave and travelled. You may have been deep into finishing a degree. Or perhaps you were on maternal or parental leave.

Many legitimate reasons exist for career breaks. Regardless of why you’ve been on leave – or how excited you are to return to your job – it could be that you’re feeling a tad nervous. After all, it’s been some time, and you may be feeling out-of-touch.

While this is more normal than you may think, transitioning back can be easier and seamless with a bit of advanced thinking and preparation.

Here are tips for settling back in if you’re heading back to the same position at the same workplace.

Chat to management early

Don’t wait until the week before you’re returning before connecting with management – even if management hasn’t been in touch with you.

Call or email and ask to catch up for a coffee to discuss a transition plan (it doesn’t have to be complex). This will help bring you up-to-speed on changes, major or minor, you may need to know about. It’s also a chance to talk about how you’re feeling and how management is feeling.

Talk about strategies for a smoother journey back. If you have ideas, be proactive in presenting them.

Confirm small details, such as the time you’re expected to arrive on your first day back, and whether you’re sitting at the same desk and in the same location. Are there meetings you have to attend on your first day? Are there new systems you need to learn? What priorities do management want you to focus on?

Be prepared for change

Shifts may have taken place in the office during your absence. Perhaps some duties have been re-assigned or plans in place to give you to other responsibilities.

Be prepared for change and remember that management appreciates valuable soft skills such as flexibility and adaptability. The last thing you want is to be seen as protective and defensive. Embrace change and give yourself time to get used to new ways of operating. Maintain a professional approach and be understanding of others, who may also have to shift on your return.

And remember to be patient and even push yourself out of your comfort zone if required.

Visit the office to say hello

It’s a nice idea to visit the office before you officially land back at work, even if it’s just a walk-through to say hello to colleagues you know and meet colleagues who are new to you.

While you don’t want to waste precious time, a quick walk-through can be an easy-going, relaxed way to show your face and enforce how you’re looking forward to coming back and being a member of the team.

This is also a good first step for refamiliarising yourself with faces, the office layout, and the personality and culture of your workplace.

Organise a coffee catch-up before returning, with a couple of colleagues you felt close to before your scheduled leave. This will help you feel reconnected.

Touch base with HR

Depending on where you work, it might be wise to touch base with your HR department, to check if there’s paperwork to complete before or on the day you return. It could be, for example, that there are forms to complete or security arrangements to update. Checking in early will make sure you tick all the boxes.

HR can also update you on processes or regulations that may have changed during your time off.

Make a list for Day 1

Once your desk is sorted and all paperwork is complete, get stuck into it. If it’s not clear what duties to start with, be proactive and clarify.

If need be, talk to management again, so you’re productive on Day 1 and definitely throughout Week 1.

This could involve straightforward, practical tasks, like updating yourself on new software and tools. Refreshing these skills quickly will enable you to be more productive early on.

Be confident

No matter how bad your case of jitters, remember that you’ve got this. Having taken time off doesn’t mean you’re any less capable – far from it. And if you’re faced with ‘new stuff’, embrace it, don’t fight it. After all, isn’t learning new content or processes good for your personal development?

Get ready at home

If you’re in a relationship or have a family now used to you being at home all the time, there will be adjustments for them too. You’re not the only one transitioning, after all.

Consciously raise what’s next and discuss concerns and practicalities of you not being around as much.

Perhaps timetables need adjusting, or you may need to share the load in some ways, so your household continues to run smoothly. How will the cleaning continue to get done? Shopping? Cooking? Laundry or other household duties? Now that you’ve returned to work, you might want to look at outsourcing some home duties.

What to do if you’re struggling

If anxiety levels persist, despite your best efforts at settling back in, don’t ignore or bury your feelings.

Remember that it’s natural to feel some discomfort after a long break. Talk to management. Talk to HR. Talk to an Employee Assistance Program if your organisation has one.

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