Returning to work and how to overcome those jitters

17th March 2022

Gone are the days when only women would take lengthy breaks from work after having a baby. Today, over 900,00 people are eligible for shared parental leave (despite only 2% of those in the UK actually taking advantage of it*) and increasing numbers are either taking a sabbatical or carer’s leave. Whatever the reasons, more people are planning or already taking some time out, and each of them are likely to have some trepidation about returning to a professional working environment.

Like most things in life, there will never be a perfect time to return to the office, however, there are a few strategies that can be employed to help ease the transition from your life at home to a life at the office

1. Keep In Touch

If at all possible, during your leave try and keep in touch with colleagues either socially or professionally. Personally, being able to use the KIT (Keep in Touch) days, allowed me to introduce my daughter to my colleagues during maternity leave, meet new members of the team, and generally keep abreast of things going on inside the organisation. Each of these were invaluable and meant I felt less like the new girl upon my return.

2. Find the right working pattern

Today, we are lucky to live in a world where flexibility and work-life balance are at the forefront of our professional working lives. In fact, the concept has gone viral and 70% of 18-34 year olds in the US said they would regularly take advantage of a flexible work set up.** If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we can work anywhere and anytime, whist continuing to deliver and perform at our best. As a reaction to this, organisations are continuing to implement and review their own policies in order to attract new talent and retain those who value more flexible working arrangements. With so many flexible working options available, it’s important that you take the time to find one that works for you, discuss it with your employer, and remember that flexibility works both ways. The working pattern list is long, but some of the more standard options are:

  • Part Time Hours
  • Compressed Hours
  • Flexible non-standard Day
  • Term-Time Working
  • Job Sharing

3. Find your professional self again

There are no two ways about it; returning to work after time out is daunting. It can often leave you worrying that you’ve lost your skills and that your experience is no longer relevant (let’s be honest -some of us feel that way after 2 weeks off!) Give yourself some time to re-discover yourself. Re-connect with your old team, review your last set of objectives, and take the opportunity to refresh your skills with some training and informal coaching. It’s also important to review your handover notes from when you left; you may be surprised at how little has changed!

4. Use your new skills

Whatever your reason for taking time off, you will have picked up some new skills along the way. New parents and those who have been on carer’s leave will have had to learn to react quickly to changing circumstances – use that agility to deal with day-to-day challenges in the office. Conversely, if you’ve taken a sabbatical to travel, learn a new language or pick up a new skill, then you may well have improved your planning abilities or understood how to deal with ambiguity better. Either way, a break from the office will always provide a new perspective, one that is often missing amongst those who haven’t taken an extended period of leave.

5. Have Tickets!

Imagine the scenario where you have tickets to a concert or show; you will plan to finish work in good time to make curtain up. So why shouldn’t the same concept be applied to your personal life? Speaking as a parent who has tried to be disciplined when setting work vs home boundaries, I have applied the tickets concept to my own life. Not only does this prevent me working over-time too frequently, but it also means I have time to fulfil my job as a mother and carry out a plethora of mum duties, be it the school run, helping with the homework or cooking dinner. What I have learnt is that you simply cannot do it all and be all things to all people, all the time. Establish your work time and non-work time – have Tickets!

6. Enjoy

Enjoy the opportunity to drink a cup of coffee whilst it’s still warm, make the most of that new-found time to yourself, and for those who have returned to working from an office, appreciate just how wonderful it is to use the bathroom alone.

* Shared parental leave uptake still ‘exceptionally low’, research finds (peoplemanagement.co.uk)

** 45-essential-flexible-working-statistics-2020-market-share-data-analysis (comparecamp.com)


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