Returning to the workplace after a lengthy absence

As discussed on the RTE TODAY  show with Maura Derrane and Daithí Ó Sé.

Though returning to work is generally hugely positive, we can experience:

    • Fear – can be huge – fear of the unknown, fear of change.
    • Anxiety – we’re always going to experience anxiety at our growing edge – when we push ourselves to do something new. In the pit of our stomach – this can be debilitating.

  • Self-doubt – fragile self-confidence. “Can I do it? Will I get on, fit-in, learn, can I be myself. Will they like me?” The end result is we undervalue what we offer and we settle for less.
  • Apprehension, irritability, guilt – if leaving the children.
  • Raised stress levels, insomnia, distress.

Preparing ourselves for a return to the workplace;

  • While out, stay abreast of developments in your area of experience – or the field you want to get in to on your return to work.
  • Keep working on project “Self-Development” – in a healthy way. Work on your CV, decide what you want to do, see where you need more experience or change. Plan your strategy on how to address the deficit. Maybe talk to a life or career coach. Be clear on your skills, strengths, and what you bring to the workplace.
  • Do courses : assertiveness, social-media, self-development, start-you-own-business, back to work.. These build self-esteem as well as providing a good opportunity to network and you get great tips. Many courses are available free or very low cost.
  • Build  your network – a group of like-minded people who you keep in frequent contact with, who can coach you and who are supportive.
  • If you suffer from chronic fear, anxiety, low esteem, self-doubt or other such debilitating emotional / psychological condition, get the right help and support – to be safe, back on your feet and better functioning. Ideally, you need to harness excitement and stress – positively. Learn to enjoy the journey.
  • Work on your social skills and practice being sociable.
  • Learn social media skills. These are relevant is all environments (Twitter, LinkedIn, facebook, Instagram etc).
  • Even though you are out of the workplace, build your LinkedIn profile and keep tweaking it – in light of new connections, achievements, experience or qualifications gained.
  • Try to establish a “marketing yourself” mindset so that, daily, you are looking for ways and angles into what you want to do. Consider a Freelance position – to get yourself underway.

What Helps: Mindfullness, Meditation, Exercise, Deep Abdominal Breathing, Yoga, Diet, Writing, Laughing, Playing, Being Creative, Being Sociable, Talking, Counselling, Support, Grounding – all of these can help. If your anxiety is debilitating, then see your doctor – who might prescribe a brief course of anti-anxiety medication. It’s not uncommon to need sleeping aids – tablets – over the counter or prescribed.

Some might find returning to work to be a somewhat traumatic experience. While we’ll all have heard of Stress and Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD etc), we’ll most likely not have heard of Post Traumatic Growth. It’s a fancy term we have in the counselling trade of saying “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. This happens when we get back into our positive stride – after turbulent change.

The IT sector can be a particularly tricky one to return to. Because technology evolves so quickly, the rate of change is rapid. The terminology changes – as well as the technology. Younger graduates tend to be most valued. Silicon Valley is in the news now – for negative reasons – in the US and internationally, with allegations of sexism, ageism and brattish laddish behaviour in the industry.


Whether long term unemployed or out of the workplace by choice, the following can occur:

  • Detrimental impact on mental and physical health, increased stress.
  • Psychosomatic physical illness, sleep issues, increased alcohol / substance use.
  • Twice as likely to suffer psychological problems: Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem.
  • Increased marital / relationship issues. Lower life satisfaction
  • Increased mortality, reduced life expectancy,
  • It affects spouses and children’s health also (the unemployed person is prone to irritability, tension and explosiveness).
  • It impacts the community (neighbourhood unemployment – with limited opportunities, poor housing, poor services, raised crime levels etc).
  • Self-esteem, self-belief and confidence, are important to our well-being and mental health. These can take a dip when we’re unemployed. One of the contributory factors in healthy self-esteem is when we believe ourselves to be productive, contributing and therefore valued members of society. Unemployment diminishes our self-esteem in this way. Even in a supported family, we can still feel isolated, and not a valued contributor to society. Our creativity and natural evolution towards fulfilment will feel thwarted. If unsupported, at worst, this can lead us on a downward slide into low esteem, low spirits, depression, feelings of uselessness, isolation, feelings of being a burden, adaptive behaviours such as addiction, substance abuse, and sadly even to suicidation.


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1 Comment

  1. It may be tough to return to the workplace after a long period of absence from work. Try to be social and greet those at the workplace with a smile along with customary greeting words like ‘Good Morning’,’ How are you?’, etc. This will surely help in winning the hearts of those around you.

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