A Guide On How To Return To Work After An Absence

Written by Nicola Wylie

Reintegrating into the workplace after an absence can be a huge transition for both employees and employers. This detailed guide aims to provide a comprehensive resource for people in the UK who are preparing to return to work after an extended absence. By following these steps and strategies, you can navigate the process smoothly and confidently and successfully transition back to employment.

We cover general advice and specific tips based on common use cases. Whether you’re getting back to work after illness, pregnancy, or an extended career break, we offer strategies to support you.

General Advice On How To Return To Work

Coping with work after an absence can be overwhelming for many people. In such a fast-moving job market, it’s natural to feel anxious about this new challenge. However, you’re not alone. Help is on hand if you need it, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

If you’re feeling stressed, take a look at the following advice on the steps for returning to work.

1. Communicate your return to work

The first step is to start communication with your employer to notify them of your decision. Give your employer a concrete return date, leaving plenty of time for them to make any necessary arrangements.

Moreover, clearly communicate any adjustments or accommodations to help you settle back in. Your employer may also suggest that you review company policies and procedures to get up-to-date on any changes. 

2. Organise your personal responsibilities 

When returning to work after extended leave, you will need to set aside time to manage personal affairs. For instance, arranging childcare or eldercare for any dependents. Addressing any pending tasks will give you peace of mind as you transition back into the workforce.

3. Mentally prepare for the transition back to work

Re-entering the workforce can be an emotional time, so give yourself space to mentally prepare. Set realistic expectations for yourself, create time for self-care practices like meditation or exercise, and reach out to your support network if needed. Mixed emotions are completely normal during this time, so be gentle with yourself.

4. Gently reintegrate into the work environment

Jumping straight in at the deep end may work for some, but for many, it’s too overwhelming. Instead, aim to gradually reintegrate into office life by reconnecting with colleagues before you return. Start by letting your peers know that you’re coming back and schedule informal catchups to get up to speed and reinforce your relationships. What’s more, doing this will give you insight into new projects or changes in the company.

5. Establish a productive routine

Adjusting to a work routine again can take time, so don’t expect to be your 100% productive self straightaway. Instead, identify key priorities and plan your workload efficiently. Doing this will help you manage your time and avoid burning out. With some careful planning and a clear routine, you’ll be back in the swing of things before you know it.

6. Manage work-life balance

Managing work-life balance after a break can be challenging. Nevertheless, there are techniques that can help. Before the return, practice setting boundaries, managing expectations, and applying stress management strategies. These skills will help you clearly communicate your availability (and limitations) to your employer and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to request accommodations such as flexible or remote working options if you think it will help you ease back in.


How To Return To Work: Common Use Cases

Now we’ve looked at some general tips on how to return to work, let’s explore some more specific use cases. This section breaks down some actionable advice to help you navigate the process depending on your unique situation.

1. Returning to work after a personal leave

Taking an extended personal leave can do wonders for your mental health and family life. That said, the longer you’re out of the workforce, the harder it can be to jump back in. Follow these best practices to seamlessly integrate back into the job market.

  • Make a gradual transition back into your work routine by considering a phased return plan with your employer. For instance, this could mean starting with reduced hours or lighter tasks so you can readjust slowly.
  • Dedicate time to refreshing your skills to ensure you have the relevant knowledge and skills for your role. For instance, check out online resources or undertake training programmes.
  • Reach out to your colleagues or HR department for guidance and support before and during the transition back to work. Knowing you have friendly faces to welcome you back will make a big difference.

2. Returning to work after a mental health absence

Around 1 in 4 Brits face a mental health issue each year, making mental health absences an increasingly common occurrence. Here are some factors to consider when coming back after a wellbeing break.

  • Be open and honest with your employer about your mental health absence. This includes being upfront about any adjustments or accommodations that could help you resume your position. 
  • Before you get back to work, establish self-care routines to maintain your mental health. For instance, mindfulness practices, taking regular breaks, and incorporating movement into the workday.
  • Take advantage of mental health resource resources like counselling, therapy, or employer-provided services.

3. Returning to work after maternity leave

Having a baby is a magical time, but it’s also exhausting. Between sleepless nights and anxiety about leaving your child, getting back to work after a child is an adjustment. Here are some ways to make the transition as seamless as possible.

  • Long before you return to work, make sure you have plans in place for childcare arrangements and flexible working hours. Being proactive and organised will give you peace of mind and ensure things run smoothly.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations. Raising a family may mean your priorities have changed, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Speaking to your colleagues in similar situations can help you prepare and get the support you need.
  • When possible, reach out to your replacement during maternity leave to organise a smooth handover. Not only will this keep you in the loop in the time leading up to the reintegration, but it will ease your mind about that dreaded first day. 

4. Resuming work after a long break

Whether for health reasons or taking care of loved ones, getting back to work after an extended absence can be daunting. However, with these simple tips, you can ease yourself in gently.

  • Update your CV to emphasise transferable skills or new experience gained during your break. This could be directly related to the role (training or certifications) or soft skills obtained through traveling or raising a family. What’s important is highlighting how those new skills will help you in future job roles. 
  • Dedicating some time during your break to upskill will ensure you’re competitive and boost your confidence when it comes to getting back to work.
  • Networking is a powerful tool for people looking to reenter the job market. So, look out for industry events, reconnect with your professional contacts, and look for leads on possible new job opportunities.

5. Coming back to work after an injury

Suffering from a long-term injury can really knock you off your feet and make it tough to reenter the workplace. However, with the right approach, it can be an empowering and smooth experience.

  • First of all, speak to your Doctor to assess whether you’re ready to go back to work. Be honest about the demands of your job, so your healthcare provider can make an informed decision. 
  • Communicate with your employer, letting them know how your injury could affect you at work. Will you have any restrictions or require any adjustments? In this case, a gradual return to work could be best.
  • Ergonomics is especially important if you have an existing injury. Speak to your employer about getting ergonomic equipment to reduce the risk of further injury.


6. Returning to work after a sabbatical

A sabbatical from work can give you the time to re-evaluate your priorities and recalibrate. On the other hand, re-integrating into the workforce after a long sabbatical can be difficult. These best practices can help you make the adjustment.

  • Taking a sabbatical is a great moment to reflect and set clear goals. As such, be sure to define what your professional goals are and how your sabbatical has impacted this.
  • You may not have realised it, but you have likely developed a wealth of new transferable skills during your sabbatical. These skills, particularly competencies like adaptability, resilience, and problem-solving, will prove invaluable when you return to work. So, start listing examples of what skills you have acquired and how you plan to apply them in a work environment. 
  • If possible, take time during your sabbatical to explore new interests or potential career paths. Having the freedom (and time) to evaluate your situation and aspirations can leave you open to new opportunities that align with your goals.

7. How to return to work after illness

Exiting the workforce due to illness is often traumatising. So, it’s critical that you give yourself adequate time to deal with any emotions from that experience before you jump back in. These tips should help.

  • The first step is to consult your doctor to get the all-clear to return to work. Listen to their advice and recommendations for a smooth transition back to work. 
  • Make a list of any workplace accommodations you may need after your illness, such as altered tasks, schedule changes, and adjustments to your work equipment. 
  • Don’t try to do too much at once, this will probably end in your burning out. Instead, try to pace yourself and gradually build up your workload. 

While these tips aim to offer guidance for different situations, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. Therefore, it’s critical that you listen to your body and adapt any advice to your personal situation. What’s more, always listen to the recommendations from your Doctor and family members to avoid overwhelming yourself by taking on too much too soon.


A Final Word On How To Return To Work

Returning to work after an absence requires careful planning and adjustment. By following this comprehensive guide, you can confidently navigate this transitional phase in the UK. Remember to communicate effectively with your employer, organise personal affairs, prepare mentally and emotionally, reconnect with colleagues, establish a productive routine, and prioritise work-life balance. Embrace this opportunity for growth and seize the chance to create a fulfilling work experience. Good luck on your journey back to the workplace!

Are you ready to get back to work? We can help. Browse our resource hub for advice and guidance on finding new career opportunities. Then, kickstart your job hunt by checking out our career change jobs board and inclusive jobs board for opportunities near you.

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