Five ways I learned to cope with the return to agency life after time out

For anyone on furlough – or for those who find themselves made redundant – finding a way back to work after time out can be tough.

Returning to work after any career break can be hard, but there are ways to ease the transition, says Laura Sibley
Returning to work after any career break can be hard, but there are ways to ease the transition, says Laura Sibley

But I promise you, as someone who has taken a number of career breaks – two planned, and two unexpected – it will be OK.

In 2011, aged 30, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

I had just started work at a leading tech brand, going from the world of agency PR to learning the ins and outs of being client-side, and suddenly I was told I had to take nine months out for treatment, completely unable to work.

I then went on to have planned time out with the birth of my two children in 2016 and early 2019, and an attempt at minimal maternity leave.

Just when I thought I’d had enough time out and returned to the office after my second maternity leave, I was diagnosed with an unexpected brain tumour: a meningioma.

Thankfully, it was removed, and four months later I was back at work again.

Just as I was finally getting back to normality, the coronavirus hit, and with it all the worries and anxieties we are all dealing with day-to-day.

There is no denying it: leaving work and going back after time out is a huge readjustment, whether it is the same office or a different job.

But there are things that can help you get back on your feet. Here is a list of things that I found beneficial, and you might too.

  1. Buddy up. There may be new faces, accounts managed differently in your absence, and new clients. Having someone to talk it all through with helps. Equally, if you’re without a role, find someone who will keep you abreast of the industry so it's familiar when you return.
  2. Don’t let it define you or drag you down. The worry about recruiters asking the “Why did you take time out?” question can be hard to answer. Be honest – those businesses you would want to work for long-term will understand.
  3. Don’t ever apologise. Time out is time out. It certainly isn’t something you should ever feel guilt for, no matter what the situation.
  4. Build your confidence back up. A knock can lower confidence, especially if your role has been made redundant (and remember, it’s the role, not you). It will take time, but it will return with the right support – so don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  5. Take each day, a day at a time. Right now, most of us are finding our way… Don’t worry if you have low days, it is to be expected when change happens.

Finally, to all the bosses, mentors and colleagues reading this who have new team members starting, or who are looking to recruit, or are welcoming people back after a career break: remember that we don’t know everyone’s personal situations, state of mental wellbeing or what they are or have been going through.

But we can be there for each other, we can offer to listen and provide a helping hand. I can attest that a virtual cuppa and a chat really does do wonders.

Laura Sibley is a director at Hope&Glory

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