Everyone needs some time away from their jobs. After all, that’s the whole point of vacations. A little rest and relaxation away from the office can provide the reboot you need to get back to work.
That return can be much more challenging if you’ve been gone for an extended period for a different purpose. Maybe you have been on maternity, medical, or bereavement leave. Or perhaps you’ve suffered a mental health crisis or needed treatment for an addiction.
Unlike vacations, these types of work absences have physical, emotional, and psychological components attached. Any of them can make “life as usual” significantly more challenging. Unfortunately, few workplaces are well suited for fragility of any kind.
For many people, getting back to work can help whatever they’ve been dealing with. If nothing else, it’s likely an economic necessity. How you make the transition will matter, though. Here are four tips for going back to work after a leave for personal healing.
1. Make Sure You’re Truly Ready
The amount of time you spend at work makes it a pivotal part of your life. Not only does it give you the financial means to support yourself, but it also provides a sense of self-worth. That sense of value is particularly important to the mental health healing process.
Returning too soon, however, can have devastating consequences. You could relapse into deep depression, addiction, or physical illness. The timing needs to be right.
Healthcare providers can help you determine whether you’re ready to go back to work. If you have been in rehab for depression, for example, discuss it with your therapist. If you have been on medical leave for an illness, make sure your doctor clears you to return.
Everyone heals at a different pace. Just because the time you asked off for is ending doesn’t mean you’re ready to reenter the workforce. Make sure it’s the right time for you.
2. Take It Slow
When a vacation ends, you’re expected to jump right back into a full work schedule. But if you have been out longer for personal healing, returning full time right away might be a bad idea. It’s likely to take a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
You may want to begin with a workplace visit or two before you decide to come back. Talk to your employer about returning on a part-time basis and easing back into work for a while. It will give you time to figure out the status of projects and the extent of your stamina. You’ll have time to consider what you need to catch up on and develop a strategy to manage it.
Recognize that some jobs may not be conducive to a gradual return schedule. If that’s the case with yours, make sure you have the external resources you may need if you begin to struggle. Having a safety net in place never harmed anyone.
3. Put Yourself First
There are multiple forces that will make putting yourself first tough when you return to work. There is a tendency for those who have been out to feel pressure to deliver above-and-beyond performances right away. You need to resist that temptation to avoid any kind of relapse.
Acknowledge the co-workers who have taken on additional responsibilities in your absence. Make sure they know you appreciate their efforts, but don’t feel bad because they had to. If your employer chose to distribute work differently rather than hire temporary help, that’s not your “fault.”
This is also a great time for you to review your professional objectives and expectations. Goals you set previously could be too aggressive at the moment. Feel free to walk them back a bit so you have time to reacclimate to your work life.
For many people who must take extended leave, not putting themselves first is what prompted the crisis in the first place. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Give yourself a break.
4. Let Others Help
It seems that one of the most difficult things for most people to do is to accept help from others. In the workplace, there are all sorts of reasons why you may struggle with this after you’ve been gone. But there are better reasons why you should accept it.
It’s inevitable that when you return, you’ll feel indebted to everyone who picked up the slack in your absence. You’ll try to avoid asking them for help with anything, but don’t. Even without knowing any details, most co-workers will know you’ve been struggling. They’ll feel better themselves if they think they’re helping you make the transition.
Don’t forgo the opportunity to ask them what happened on projects while you were out. Who did what, and how did things turn out? Also, processes might have changed, so don’t hesitate to ask colleagues for assistance in learning anything new.
Finally, you’re entitled to privacy about the reasons you took a leave and where you were. That said, be open to answering basic questions, such as: “How are you doing?” and “Are you glad to be back?” Your co-workers may be pruriently curious, but it’s more likely that they simply care.
In many circumstances, taking time off is the only way to give yourself the space you need to heal. Yet your employment indisputably consumes a large chunk of your life. If healing means getting back to living your life well, returning to your job will be a significant part of reaching that goal.