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Smooth Return to Work from a Career Break

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Having a longer break from work is not uncommon. And, of course, there could be many different reasons for a break: from parental leave, medical reasons, career breaks or career change altogether, or simply a break to do a bit of traveling. A LinkedIn survey of 23,000 workers revealed that nearly 62% of employees have taken a career break at some point and 35% are open to taking one in the future.

If you’re reading this, you are probably either reflecting on a break you took in the past or thinking what you would do if you were to take a break in the future and how you’d choose to spend your time away from work. It looks like times have changed, we tend to value our work-life balance more than people did, say, 30-40 years ago.

But, unless you won the lottery, there will be time when you need to return to work. And, unfortunately, it can be a daunting experience. The gap can bring a mix of excitement and anxiety as you navigate the challenges of reintegrating into the workforce. This article explores the common challenges faced during this transition and provides strategies to ensure a smooth return.

So, why is it challenging to get back to work after several months or years:

  1. Technological advancements:

One of the most significant challenges is catching up with technological advancements. Industries evolve rapidly, and new tools, software, and platforms can become standard in a short time. For those who have been away, there is often a steep learning curve to become proficient with these new technologies.

  1. Skill gaps:

During a prolonged absence, your skills may become rusty. You might even require some training to dust them off. A new industry standards emerge, it is natural that your previous expertise needs updating, or it may be that you need to acquire entirely new skills to meet the current job requirements.

  1. Changes in workplace culture:

Workplace dynamics and culture can shift considerably over time. New management, policies, and team structures can make the environment feel unfamiliar. Adapting to these changes requires understanding and integrating into the new culture, which can be overwhelming. If you’re returning to the same job you had before your break, depending on how long you’ve been away for, you may come back to new management and a brand-new team. People don’t tend to stay in the same job for their whole professional life, like they used to.

  1. Confidence issues:

After a long break, it’s common for individuals to experience a dip in self-confidence. Doubts about one’s ability to perform, fear of not fitting in, or concerns about being perceived as outdated can affect performance and overall well-being.

  1. Balancing work and personal life:

During the break, you most likely developed new routines and responsibilities, particularly if the break was for personal or family reasons. Integrating work back into this mix requires careful planning and adjustment.

  1. Networking and professional relationships:

Professional networks may weaken during a break. Rebuilding these connections and establishing new professional relationships can be challenging, especially if many former colleagues have moved on or if there have been significant changes within the industry.

But despite all the challenges, returning to the workforce may be a great exciting new chapter for you. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for the return:

  1. Emotional and mental prep:

Acknowledging the emotional aspects of returning to work is essential. Reflect on the reasons for your break and use them as a source of strength. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or journaling, can help manage stress and build resilience.

  1. Update skills and knowledge:

If possible, proactively update your skills. Identify the key areas where you need improvement and take courses, attend workshops, or simply read a few articles online. Online platforms like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and Udemy offer numerous resources to help you catch up with industry trends and technologies.

  1. Reconnect:

It’s good to refresh old relationships, including the professional ones. Reconnect with former colleagues and mentors, let them know about your return and seek their advice on current industry practices. Attend industry conferences, webinars, and networking events to meet new professionals and stay informed about industry developments.

  1. Make it gradual:

Have you considered a phased return to work? Starting with part-time hours or a flexible schedule can ease the transition and allow you to gradually adjust to the demands of a full-time role. This approach also gives you time to re-establish routines and manage personal responsibilities.

  1. Ask for help:

Let’s be realistic- you’ve had a longer break and, hopefully, nobody is expecting you to be a pro on day one of your return. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be open with your employer about your transition back to work, discuss any concerns or accommodations you might need, such as flexible working hours or additional training. There may even be an option to have a mentor, who can help with your return.

  1. Follow industry news:

Hopefully, you enjoy what you do for a living and may have followed some industry relevant news while away from work. If you haven’t, it is never too late. So, read industry publications, blogs, and news to stay informed about the latest trends and developments. Subscribing to newsletters and joining professional associations can provide valuable insights and help you remain connected to your field.

  1. Be kind to yourself:

It is easy to get frustrated, if you know that you can complete certain tasks a lot faster or better (because you know you had done it before the break). You know what they say- practice makes master. You’ll get there. But in the meantime, don’t feel bad- celebrate small achievements to build confidence.

  1. Don’t forget the work-life balance:

One of the reasons for your career break could have been burnout and need to rest from work. It is crucial to not throw yourself back straight into the deep end and forget about a healthy work-life balance. Make sure that you establish boundaries to prevent burnout and make time for activities that rejuvenate you. A balanced approach can enhance productivity and overall well-being.

Long gone are the days when individuals stayed in the same employment continuously for 30+ years. Not only are we willing to take risks and change employers, but we’re also far more likely to change industries, if we discover that our passion is elsewhere, as well as take longer breaks from any employment to simply discover ourselves, travel, spend time with our loved ones (or any other reason). So, remember, you are not the first and not the last person who needs to go through the challenges of returning to work. With a bit of prep, some help from the boss and co-workers and by being proactive, you can have a smooth transition back into the workforce.