Leaping Back in after Time Away from Work

With the chaos that has encompassed 2020 and 2021, many people got a taste of what it was like to work away from the office. But what if you’ve been away from work itself? Whether it was because you were taking maternity leave, recovering from a prolonged illness, or some other reason entirely, jumping back into work can have its roadblocks. Read on for some tips to make the transition a bit easier.

Make contact in advance

Before you walk back into the office, try your best not to be caught unawares by contacting your boss or coworkers who covered your tasks while you were away. Verbally catch up with them about what changes or shifts occurred in your absence so nothing catches you by surprise. Additionally, have your boss set out exactly what she expects from you when you’re back in the office. This way, you won’t be presented with a giant pile of “to do” lists and feel you need to tackle all of them straight away. This type of transparence can go a long way in easing the self-induced pressure you may feel to “do it all,” while giving your boss a chance to communicate expectations before your (inevitably hectic) first day back arrives.

Cut it short

While you may be tempted to return on a Monday in order to jump right back in, Real Simple recommends cutting your week short by starting back to work on a Wednesday or Thursday. Knowing the weekend is only a few days away may help you feel less stressed than knowing you have a full five-day workweek to slog through. Additionally, your colleagues will likely be less busy during the middle of the week, so they will have more time to catch you up on everything you missed.

Create expectations for yourself—and then lower them

It’s natural to want to pick up right where you left off, but, after a long time away, it’s important to recognize you may be a bit rusty at first—and that’s OK! If you walk into the office not expecting to answer all 117 email messages in the first two hours, it will help you feel less guilty when that (inevitably) doesn’t happen. If possible, limit the amount of electronic communication channels you have open. And remember: The more slack you cut yourself when you first get back to the office, the more truly productive you can be.

Familiarize yourself (again) with your field

A lot can change in a workplace, even if you were only gone for a few weeks at a time. Whether it’s new regulations that have been put into place or a different computer program that’s been introduced, make sure you’re up to date on what is going on both in the office and your field as a whole. Reread your company’s website, pick up an industry journal, or browse reputable websites to learn the latest news. This will not only prepare you for any shifts in your office but will also help fuel your confidence.

Build in time to breathe

In a further effort to make the transition back to full time as painless as possible, try to avoid scheduling any major meetings or projects for the first week or so that you’re back in order to give yourself time to get your head back in the game. Harvard Business Review suggests blocking off specific chunks of time during the day for you to catch up on emails, phone calls—or to just simply catch your breath. Scheduling a lunch or coffee break with someone is another great way to break up the day and give yourself something to look forward to in the midst of a whirlwind period.

Transitioning back to full time work can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. Just remember to be kind and patient with yourself, and everything else will (eventually) fall back into place.

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