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How to Prepare To Return to Work

10 March 2022

There are dozens of reasons why people drop out of the workforce for a while. Some of these are positive. A round-the-world trip, six-month study sabbatical, or perhaps maternity or paternity leave with its promise of new life.

Others are not so upbeat. These absences may be due to poor health, bereavement, unemployment or furloughing, or taking time out to care for someone that needs help. 

Ultimately, though, whatever fuelled your time away from work, stepping back into that world can be both exciting and scary at the same time. Humans are pretty adaptable and soon create new routines and habits that structure their days and weeks. 

This transition process can lead to mixed feelings about picking up the threads of your old life. It's entirely natural to both miss it and hold on tight to strands of your current lifestyle. These feelings are okay. They're normal and something you can get past. 

Here are a few ideas on how to ease yourself back into the workplace after a break, whatever the reason behind it.

Take a Good Look at Your Lifestyle

Everyone's circumstances are unique, but the chances are very high that your return to work will mean a lifestyle change.

This is an excellent time to consider what will be different for you. What kind of adjustments need to be made to sleeping patterns? If you've got used to late nights and afternoon naps, this is a good time to tackle your timings. Make an action plan to gradually work things into a pattern that suits what comes next. 

There may be situations where this tactic won't work. Say when you have a new baby to work around. Small children are unpredictable sleepers, so you can only do your best. This is one scenario where learning the art of power napping is definitely allowed. 

Create and Commit to a Sleep Chart

Generally, it's sensible to create a workable plan that will help the transition from random to healthy sleep habits. 

How harsh this should be depends mainly on timing. If your return to work is almost upon you, changes may need to be quite radical. Otherwise, a more staggered approach could be ideal. 

If a return to work date is way off in the future, try not to shelve plans to revise sleep habits under the 'think about it later' file in your mind. Committing helps to shift attitude and encourage confidence in future success. 

Example of a sleep adjustment plan

Target wake up time – 7 am

Current average wake up time – 10 am

Average sleep time needed to function – 7 hours

Target bedtime – 11.30 pm 

Current bedtime – 2 am

For week 1, set the alarm to wake up 10 minutes earlier every day, from Monday to Saturday. By the end of this week, you'll be up an hour earlier than usual. 

Repeat daily until the target wake up time is achieved, then try to maintain it. Continue with the pattern, but this time focusing on going to bed 15 minutes earlier each day until the target time is met or beaten.

Overhaul Your Wardrobe

Avoid panic, stress, or potential disasters on your official return date by looking critically at your wardrobe. Try on every piece of clothing you might want to wear. Are these things smart, clean and ready to wear? Do they fit well? If you've been relaxing in leisurewear or pyjamas, this might be a challenge!

Don't forget to check your shoes, ties, bags, and coats as well.

Look at Possible Alternative Options 

If the leap from home to work feels overwhelming, perhaps a phased return could be an option? Phased returns involve working fewer hours initially, with your hours increasing gradually over a specific time period.

Other possibilities could be a job share or a part-time role. These are worth asking about if you are unsure about resuming your previous post precisely as it was.

Revive or Create Connections

If you have stayed in close contact with colleagues while taking time away, you have the advantage of being pretty much in the loop. However, if that's not the case, it is natural to feel a little apprehensive about your return.

Make this situation an opportunity by establishing or revisiting connections within your workplace. This is the moment to schedule coffee or lunch dates with coworkers. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are good places to discover common ground with those you don't personally know.

There's no doubt that easing yourself back into work mode can bring plenty of challenges, along with just as many rewards. Everything is more manageable when you have the chance to plan and prepare, so maximize those opportunities, and all will be well.