Help – I’m returning to work after being off for a while

redundancy/furlough/parental/sick leave

We all know that getting back into a routine even after a short two-week holiday can take a day or two. Preparing beforehand with notes and reminders can help, but the easy familiarity has to be re-engaged. However, returning to work after a longer period of absence can be even more daunting, and preparing well for that first move whilst seeking support from others is paramount to success.

Most people will follow an uninterrupted period of work, other than holidays and minor sickness, throughout their career. And that’s fine. If you’re fit and healthy, enjoy your job and continue to benefit from the rewards until retirement (and beyond), why not? But not everyone can do this and the increasing impact of, for example, mental health issues will also play their part.

There are many reasons for ‘taking time out’ – some voluntary, some not so. And unless it’s because of some wrongdoing on your part, these can be totally justifiable. A common cause can be the need to look after an elderly and/or sick relative, or bringing up a young family. Redundancy, furlough, personal illness or long-term hospitalisation following an accident can take their toll. 

And there are those who simply want a career break, possibly to do something entirely different (like voluntary work, for example - or to climb a Munro or ten!) Any of these ‘extra-curricular activities’ will, inevitably, affect your ability to connect with, and function within, your previous role. So how do you start again?

If you find you now have a huge gap in your CV – don’t worry. If the reason(s) for your absence are as outlined above – be honest. Potential employers tend to be far more interested in what you can do, rather than what you can’t. So, the knowledge and experience you can offer (which you never really lose) is much more important to them than the fact that you’ve been away from the coalface for some time. Your confidence may be low but be assured that you can almost certainly do the job; and do it well.

If you’re hoping to return to your old job, keeping in touch with colleagues (and, more importantly, your boss) is an obvious route, if only to re-familiarise yourself with what’s what and who’s who; people may have moved, or your role taken over by someone else. Being kept aware of these changes will stand you in good stead and allow you to be better prepared for your eventual rehabilitation. Alternatively, if you’ve managed to keep informed of changes occurred via the organisation’s website, that can be extremely useful. 

Starting again may need to be done slowly so that, in time, you can be fully re-engaged. So, you may want to work part-time for a while, simply to get back up to speed. Everyone is different, some will need more support than others, but being able to count on, and benefit from that support is vital.

Of course, you may have decided that you wish to start a new career altogether, in which case you must have researched the whole idea thoroughly before launching into it. Be careful you’re not seen as simply inconsistent in your ideas (a ‘drifter’) but if you’re clear in your ideas, go forward with the same self-belief and conviction.

Medium and long term work absence is increasingly common, and so is the need to help those who, through no fault of their own, have had to take time off work. If that’s you, you should never feel forgotten or abandoned. You’ll find that your key abilities remain and will still be appreciated by those around you. Keep your confidence and self-belief and there is no reason why you cannot prove that to yourself.

Key Points

  • The reasons for long-term absence
  • Don’t worry about gaps appearing in your CV
  • If you can, keep in touch with colleagues – and your boss
  • Be confident in your abilities
  • Prepare for your eventual return
  • Refer to the organisation’s website
  • Consider a phased return to work
  • Be aware of the potential pitfalls – as well as the opportunities – of taking up a new career

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