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The question this week is from Louise in Syracuse, USA and asks, “How do you get back into the swing of things at work after a career break?”
Great question, Louise. I get asked this question quite a bit. There's a bit of frustration from individuals, often women returning back to work after maternity leave. It could also be people who've been made redundant or have left a role on their own terms and are searching for a new one and it has taken a significant period of time, often one to two years in really senior roles.
So how do you get back in flow and feel like you used to feel? What do you need to consider?
1. Lifestyle changes
The very first thing that I want you to think about is that it's very likely, particularly if you're coming back from having a child, that your life away from work has changed very significantly. So the system at home, the priorities away from work, even what you hold dear and most important, has now changed. Psychologically, mentally, you've changed. You might find you're in meetings and you're thinking about something at home, and you drift in and out of the conversation. Your patience and tolerance for time-wasting might be a lot less, and you’re thinking, “When is this going to end?!”
The brain is probably a bit fuller than it used to be as there are a lot more priorities than there used to be. Your energy is likely to be different, your knowledge set, everything about you and the world around you is probably now different.
So it's important to understand that even if you just had a career break from one role to another, maybe do a bit of journaling on how much your life has changed from when you last had a job to now, because it's an important thing to remember.
2. Your measure of success has changed
What you'll find is that your success is different to what it used to be. Before your break, you might have done a five-day working week or 40 to 50 hours. In your mind, there was a certain number of activities and tasks that you did in a given working week.
When you return, maybe you're only working three days a week, but unconsciously you're still running the same success metric ie. the same output as five days. So what you end up doing is five days' work in three days of effort, on top of all the other things going on in your life and it just makes it a nearly impossible task. So it’s important to ask yourself, “What does success actually look like in line with the job?”
So you need to be kind to yourself a little bit and just lower the bar around the volume. Don't lower the quality, of course, but the volume might well change.
3. Evolving and learning
Often we go back to work and we just want to do the stuff we're comfortable at. And we might have a lot of work coming through the door, so we do all the important stuff but nothing that offers you no joy. Make sure you do stuff that adds value and make sure you do stuff that applies to your real strengths.
Yes, every job has suck factor; it doesn't matter what job you're in. Even CEOs can attest to this fact! But it’s important to make sure that you've got some things that apply to your strengths that let you get into flow at least once or twice a week, so you really feel like you're just starting to get back into the groove as an individual.
All roles have a learning curve when you start them. I think actually the research says it takes one and a half years for us to really be fully valuable to a mid- to large-sized organisation, to learn the systems, the people, how to navigate the cadence of the business effectively and really hit our straps. Likewise, in your first few months back from a break, it’s unrealistic to think that you will be adding the same amount of value as you were previously.
The best way to counter this is through 30, 60 and 90-day plans. The first 30 days involves understanding a business as much as possible, the systems, the people, the processes, the customers, whatever it is.
The next 30 days involves looking at a few small things that can make a measurable difference. The low-hanging fruit. And then the final 30 days of a 90-day plan is when you draft up some plans to make a real difference. This planning can really make a massive difference in helping you feel settled and back in flow, and can even shorten that 18 months period of bedding into an organisation.
Furthermore, you might well feel like you're a little bit behind compared to when you used to be and compared to your peers. So I would encourage you to get back into the habit of learning and professional development, expanding your knowledge, either technically, tactically or in a leadership sense. Take 20 minutes a day or half an hour a week and devote it to learning, however that looks.
Chief, if you've got a question you want answered, make sure you send it through to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my very best to do a minisode just for you.
MINI-MBA IN LEADING HIGH PERFORMANCE TEAMS
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