How to cope with returning to work after a break

Most of us experience the 'returner' syndrome at some point, whether after a career break to go travelling, a gap between roles or maternity leave. Should you walk back in as if you've never been away or act like the new recruit? Every situation is different, but there are some things you should take account of to ensure a smoother ride.

  1. Set your compass
    Be honest about why you've returned to work (money, boredom, raw ambition, status or all of the above), and remember this when you have a wobble about four weeks in.
  2. Today's news is tomorrow's chip paper
    You may want to wander in quietly or be the biggest story of the month. Whichever approach you take, recognise that you will be 'new news' for a day or two, then the general rhythm will return. Don't expect others' excitement to last beyond that initial phase.
  3. Remember that life doesn't stand still
    You've changed, others have changed, and you are not always in sync. Don't expect things to be 'as they were', but recognise that this can be a good thing.
  4. Be a sponge
    Immerse yourself in the new context of your organisation: it will have evolved and there may be fresh opportunities you hadn't thought of.
  5. Reset your brand
    Make it clear to people that your brainpower hasn't disappeared just because you weren't here: now that you're back, you're fired up and that you don't need to be handled with kid gloves. Work out what those in charge expect from you and when you should check in with them. Leave no ambiguities, especially if you're ambitious. Don't let others say: "She's just back, give her time, it's not fair." If you want it, go for it.
  6. Be kind to yourself  
    Your energy levels may take a battering after being away from this sort of work, so expect to feel exhausted, but know that it won't last forever.
  7. You're worth it
    Remember, the very fact you've stepped away for a while means you have fresh perspective and can see the wood for the trees. That's valuable for others, whether they realise it or not.

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