Returning to Work After an Absence is Common, So Why is it so Hard?
Returning to Work After an Absence is Common, So Why is it so Hard?

returning to work usually involves shoppingAlthough certain career-related transitions are predictable and common they are still challenging. One of those transitions is returning to work following an absence. There are many ‘flavours’ of this transition including returning after:

  1. a maternity or parental leave,
  2. an extended absence for parenting,
  3. a physical illness or accident
  4. completing additional training or education
  5. burnout or stress leave
  6. caring for a loved one (e.g., spouse, child, or parent)


Returning to a Familiar Role

As I noted in a previous blog, it is sometimes a matter of getting back in the saddle that you’re already familiar with.

mindset is important when returning to workIf you’re lucky enough to be returning to the same job after an extended absence you’ve already made it past a major hurdle associated with returning to work after an absence. You may still experience other difficulties such as feeling socially or professionally disconnected and/or intimidated by your work role. Sometimes this will feel like the Impostor Syndrome if some things have changed at work, or if you feel like you have changed.

You may have to relearn some aspects of your new or old role, which may have changed drastically. There may also be new management and/or coworkers to adjust to. Being aware that it may take time to reassert your role and presence is a good start. Often our pride or ego can take a hit when we are humbled by changes in the workplace, so try to stay calm and be patient when getting back to your work routine and role.

In my experience, our mindset can have a big impact when we’re trying to cope with adjustments to new roles. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Returning to Work in a New Role

Returning to work in a different role after an absence can be quite different from going back to one’s old job. Odds are that in this situation, the first obstacle is identifying and obtaining that new gig.

when returning to work, we need to prepareIntuitively, we all know that every single day someone is returning to the workforce after being at home – regardless of what had them out of the workplace. This may normalize your experience, but this knowledge doesn’t help you figure out what you need to do to get employed again.

Despite all the talk about objectivity in hiring and level playing fields, many jobs are filled through informal networks and are filled without any public advertising. Read these previous blogs on networking and the link between networking and careers. This means that a good place to start is to let your friends and other contacts know that you’re planning to go back to work. When they know that you’re looking, they may be great leads for job openings.

OK, so now your contacts know that you’ll be available for work, but many people are not sure what kind of work they should pursue. Maybe what you did in the past no longer fits your new schedule. It’s also possible that your old type of work doesn’t pay enough to allow you to cover childcare expenses while you’re working. Consider reading this article for some tips on choosing the right career.

Five Practical Ideas

  1. ideas to help with returning to workIf possible, don’t start on a Monday. The first week or two can feel overwhelming. When you manage a two- or three-day week, after regrouping on the weekend, the next week should feel easier.
  2. If possible (and relevant), get your child/children accustomed to their new caregiver before you return to work.
  3. Try to take things in stride … parenting, being a caregiver, illness, relationships and work are all challenging by themselves. When you start layering these demands it can take its toll. The right mental health support can make a huge difference on your well-being and your success at work.
  4. Give yourself a sufficiently long runway. It may take some time to find the type of role that you’re interested in and well-suited for. As a rule of thumb, it can take an extra month to find a job that pays an additional $10,000 per year. So, if you’re looking for a job paying $70,000 it could take 7 months … if it pays $100,000 could take about 10 months.
  5. If your resume is out of date and/or you haven’t written a cover letter in a while, then you should consider getting some help from someone who knows their way around these types of documents. Similarly, if you have not interviewed recently, consider investing some time in practice interviews. (Note, I do help clients with their resumes, cover letters, and practice interviews … )


Do you need help navigating the world of work? Contact Dr. Helen today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phoneemail, or via direct message on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If something urgent comes up, I’m also available by a voice or video on Magnifi, an expertise-on-demand app.

Have you ever wished you could get inside the head of a hiring manager? You can. Dr. Helen Ofosu is a Career Coach/Counsellor with a difference. She has worked for organizations to create hiring and screening tools. She’s created countless pre-screening tests, interviews, simulations, and role plays for organizations of all kinds.

Dr. Helen’s training in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology means she is a genuine expert in evaluating work-related behaviours. She uses those skills to help hiring managers tell the difference between people who say the right things during interviews and people who actually deliver on the job. In other words, Dr. Helen understands first-hand how job candidates are assessed.

More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.


I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.


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