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Returning to Work: The Agony and the Ecstasy

For many people a job is more than an income – it’s an important part of who we are. So a career transition of any sort is one of the most unsettling experiences you can face in your life.” ~Paul Clitheroe

Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with a client of mine. He had just returned to the work force after a one year absence. Of course he was glad to be back at work. He was also facing some challenges. He fully understands that it is his responsibility to jump in and get with the program as soon as possible.

The challenges he faces have to do with getting re-acclimated at work. After discussing it for a bit, here are some lessons-learned that we both decided needed sharing:

  • When you have been off work for an extended period of time, you may experience a feeling that is similar to jet lag. Your body and mind may no longer be used to keeping a 9 to 5 (and beyond) type of schedule. If possible start your new schedule BEFORE you actually start your new job.
  • Be patient with yourself and during the first month, keep extra-curricular activities to a minimum.
  • Reacquaint yourself with the required tools and techniques and of course office etiquette. If this means you need to spend some of your own time becoming comfortable with some of the tools you use (business software for example), then take the initiative and do it.
  • Set aggressive yet reasonable goals with yourself for becoming accustomed to the work place.

There is also a very important lesson learned for those of you welcoming colleagues back to the workforce. Extend patience and empathy. This does not mean that it is OK if someone cannot perform the job, it does mean be fair and allow them some time to fit in. Just because they forget a thing or two does not make them lazy or stupid. Your new employee may feel a bit disoriented at first. This is not a reflection of their attitude or abilities. It is simply a reality. If you have been away from something for several months, there will be small details that you forget. As you reacquaint yourself you may feel some self-doubt. This is what someone who is re-entering the workforce is experiencing. Be helpful when you can and encourage them. No, you do not have to engage in extended hand holding; but a little morale boost now and again does not cost you anything. Remember, many of us have had unplanned time away from the office. If this were you, how would you want to be treated? Better yet, ask your new colleague how they would like to be treated.

Hopefully we will be seeing more and more people returning to the workforce, let’s welcome them with open arms and open minds.


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