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How to return to work after a career break

Simon Lance, Managing Director, Hays Greater China


The time has come for you to return to work after a career break. You have spent the past few months pursuing a non-career related path, be it travelling or other personal reasons. Your mind has switched off from professional working life, your routine is different and you have grown accustomed to a completely different lifestyle.

After the initial excitement over the prospect of seeing familiar faces, being part of a team again and getting stuck into new projects, it is completely normal to consider the above changes and feel slightly unnerved.

You may find yourself questioning how you ever handled the early mornings, went to the gym or saw your friends whilst you were working. You might also feel insecure about your capabilities and wonder; what’s changed in my industry since I’ve left? What if my skills are rusty? Are my team the same? Is my knowledge up to speed?

Whilst colleagues will be patient and accept you need time to get back into the swing of things (you will more than likely have a “breaking in” period) there are still measures that you can take to adapt to these changes, making your return to work as positive as possible.

Learn from your break


What has your time away from work taught you? Sometimes during the hustle and bustle of professional life, we forget to take care of our health, wellbeing, personal pursuits and relationships. We only start to realise this when we step away from this cycle.

Do you feel relaxed, energised or more fulfilled? If so, why is this?

Maybe it’s because you are getting more sleep, eating proper meals, meditating or exercising. Whatever the reason, think about how you can incorporate it into your new way of life.

For example, you may need to adjust your sleeping routine to ensure you continue to get a good night’s rest once you start working.  In the build-up to your return start going to sleep and waking up at times that suit to your working hours . In the two weeks before, get up and dressed in the morning when your alarm goes off and be productive. By doing so, you won’t feel tired and out of sync on your first morning back.

Maybe it’s because you have found yourself catching up with old friends, making new ones, seeing more of your family or pursuing new hobbies?

If so, make a pact with yourself to continue along this path, maintaining a work-life balance. It’s may be a case of improving your productivity during office hours or getting to work early to avoid working those late evenings.

Learn what you can from your career break about what you need to be the most healthy, happy version of yourself. Whether it’s an improved attitude to your health or better work-life balance- make sure you find ways to keep it up when you return to your job.

Stay connected


You don’t want to feel completely out of touch on your first day back, so try to keep abreast of any fluctuations within your industry and company prior to your return to work.

During the remainder of your career break, keep on top of industry trends by reading press releases and publications. Set up Google Alerts, so that you get email updates on news related to your sector.

Try to stay in contact with colleagues; whether it’s through social media or WhatsApp, “keep in touch” days, a catch up over lunch or via phone calls. This will prompt them to keep you informed of any changes to the company, whether they’re job remits, team structures or personnel.

Sharpen up your skills


Whilst a lot of your skills might have become second nature, some may be a little rusty, depending on how long you have been away for. Get a head start and begin testing these in advance. For example, if you are a Sales Executive, brush up on your product knowledge and start practicing the way you pitch to clients.

This may be a good opportunity to improve upon your existing skills or gain news ones. Listen to some podcasts, webinars, or read a book surrounding your specialism. Expanding your knowledge will certainly boost your confidence on your first day back.

Final note


If your career break doesn’t leave you with much free time, adopt a “little and often” approach. For example, you may not be able to commit to an entire “keep in touch” day but you could arrange weekly calls with different members of your team at a more suitable time. Whilst you might not be able to sit through an hour long webinar, try listening to a five minute podcast next time you’re driving or on the train. It’s about doing what works for you.

I would also like to reiterate that you’re not expected to instantly adapt to every change which has occurred since you left. This article is about controlling the more controllable elements of your wellbeing, work-life balance, skillset and knowledge, thus making your return to work as successful as possible.


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Simon has over 14 years consulting and management experience within the professional recruitment industry in UK, Australia and China. Simon was appointed as Regional Director, China in January 2012 and is currently the Managing Director of Greater China, responsible for the operational management and expansion of Hays offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Prior to his current position as Managing Director of Hays Greater China, Simon spent 8 years with Hays Australia, progressing through various levels of promotion to assume overall management of businesses in both Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Simon’s management experience includes developing market-leading teams within a range of technical, financial, corporate and executive disciplines. He also maintains a strong personal interest in the infrastructure, engineering and energy industries. He graduated from the University of Western Australia (BSc) and has attended management development programs through both Hays and external institutions.



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