Returning to Work: Doesn’t Need to Be Difficult!

Returning to Work: Doesn’t Need to Be Difficult!




Returning to work doesn’t need to be difficult. Many people are returning to work after extended periods of absence from the workforce due to employment termination, being laid-off or due to a voluntary decision to raise a family, return to school, travel or to take sometime to reset before they move forward in their careers.  To that end, we will look at some of the challenges you may experience as you make the decision to move forward and on the flip side what can be done while away from the labour force in preparation for your eventual return to work.

Difficulties Returning to Work After an Extended Absence?

  • One challenge that many of us experience is knowing that upon our return we will be leaving behind routines, projects and activities that we have been engaged in while we have been away from the workplace. This is particularly so for many parents returning after parental leave because they have been the primary caregiver for their children while they have been out of the workplace and now must relinquish that role. Sometimes easier said than done.
  • Our fear that the knowledge and technical skills we previously developed have deteriorated and are now passé because we have failed to keep up with advances in our industry. This fear usually results in feelings that we will not be able to function effectively and can be compounded if we had involuntarily (i.e. termination, laid-off) left our last position.
  • From an emotional standpoint, your pace has been moving along at a different and sometimes slower pace for an extended period time, and you may be fearful that you will not be able to keep pace. The anxiety we experience by anticipating our return if not dealt with may impact our confidence in our selves to enjoy a successful return to work.
  • One concern is having a spotty work history that cause people anxiety about returning to work because they may not have a legitimate reason for having such an employment history.

What to Do When Out of The Labour Force?

Now that we have addressed some of the reasons why people may experience anxiety and self- doubt about returning to work we will now identify some of things you can do to keep current so you are prepared to return to work when you decide to do so. The advantage that you have when not working is that you have time that you can take advantage of that time for the purposes of reinvesting in yourself. Here are some suggestions to consider;

  • Keep abreast of the industry you worked in by reading industry trade publications, following news items regarding the industry leaders, attend professional association conferences and events to stay connected with industry standards, trends and of course networking. Even attending one large event each year keeps you visible and in the industry-loop.
  • Look at the possibility of taking classes during a prolonged period of unemployment as continuing your education will help you stay current in technical skills and the practices required in your profession.This is also a great time to interest courses to expand your knowledge about a subject area that you always wanted to learn about and may turn into a new career direction.
  • Volunteering, in your industry or within an area of expertise that you want to develop in another industry, is another way to ease the transition of moving back into full-time employment.
  • Education and volunteering are excellent avenues to consider for the purposes of networking, socialization, skill development and instilling an overall sense of purpose and meaning in your life.
  • If you are looking to move into another career direction, consider engaging the services of a career development professional because they can help you gain more perspective about yourself and different career possibilities so you can find the “best fit” career for you and your life circumstances. A Career Development Professional can also help you define and set goals around personal issues, as well as, educational and skill development requirements that need to be addressed prior to branching out, as well as, a whole host of “nuts and bolts” type services such as networking, resume writing, interview skills preparation, and job search strategies once you have made the decision to move in a specific new career direction
  • If you have had a spotty employment history, consider creating a rationale for having such a history as your “spotty” past may not be much of concern if you can provide a reasonable explanation. Some of the considerations that could be included in your rationale (i.e. just in case you get asked about it) may be things like; work-life balance, return to school, family concerns, spousal relocation, etc. Employment gaps are becoming more of a reality for many people returning to work and many employers are open to considering candidates without harsh judgement if they can answer the inquiry in a thoughtful, honest manner.

Preparing Yourself to Return to Work

  • So now you are serious about returning to work so here are some suggestions to consider; First step is to define how much work is going to be part of your life. Now this question may seem obvious because you have already made the decision to return to work but it is an important step to consider throughout the entire process and should really be clear before you start your job search. You may want to ask yourself “Why do I want to go back to work?” and “What it is that you want from your next job, or possible career. Are you returning to work for the money, to be in the presence of other adults or because you feel the need to do something that has purpose and meaning? 
  • The cornerstone that guides our decisions in life including the type of work we do is our values so the final question about purpose and meaning is an important question to be able to consider and answer because the values and life priorities you have now maybe very different from what they were in the past. This is particularly so for mothers and fathers returning to work after raising children. Your priorities may be totally different which may lead you to choosing a less traditional career or even a completely new career direction. You may now aspire to have more flexibility and work-life balance than having a career with long hours, exaggerated responsibility and a big pay cheque. Your return to work will impact the people and lifestyle you have created outside of the workforce so it is important to have a thoughtful discussion with the people this decision will impact on so you can make the decision on activities you will be able to continue with while you are working.
  • Don’t keep your job search a secret! Spread the word regarding your intention to return to work. Let the people you have been hanging around with away from the job know about your intention to return to by creating and sharing a short elevator speech. Check out this quick read from Idealist Careers for more information. This includes people that are friends, volunteer colleagues, church members, and even the other hockey parents that you see on a regular basis. You never really know who you can connect with in this type of networking. Secondly, reconnect with the people you had worked with in the past to see if there are any available positions. Always great to have eyes and ears on the inside watching out for you as you are trying to re-enter the workforce.
  • Consider applying for an internship. Many industries such as; finance, engineering and the military have internship programs for individuals that are returning to work after an extended period of absence from the workforce. These programs benefit both you as the applicant and the organization because it provides you with an opportunity to “try on the suit” to see if the work is a good fit or not and it provides the employer the opportunity to check you out before considering offering you a permanent job. This sounds like a win-win for both parties.  Here is a small sample of some of the internship programs available for women re-entering the workforce;

Finally, back at Work!

Once you start to work again remember the reasons you chose to return to work and let those reasons, as well as your values and priorities drive how you approach carrying out the responsibilities of your position. Don’t try to be perfect right away, find your footing by learning as much as you can about the position and how it fits into the big picture so you can add value to the position and the organization. In time, this approach will lead to you having more self- confidence in carrying out the responsibilities of your new position.

Brian Lambier is a Career Coach and the owner and operator of Career Vitality Services Inc. located in Calgary, Alberta. We offer a comprehensive variety of career transition related services. For more information contact telephone or email