John Moss and I were asked a cracking question in one of our regular “How To Become A Member Of The Club” webinars.

“I was at a senior level (not yet partner) at work before taking time away looking after children and an elderly parent. How should I handle my return to work?”

It’s an experience many of us will go through. Here’s the advice John and I gave:

How do you want to be seen when you return to work?

Heather: I think that when you’re in that situation you have the benefit of a sheet of blank paper. It’s up to you to think about:

  • How do I want to be seen?
  • What impact do I want to make?
  • How do I need to behave and act?’
  • What are the pre-conceptions people are going to have about me?

What are they likely to be considering about you and your return? Will they think you’re rusty, will they wonder how committed you are to being there?

It’s up to you to decide on the impression you are going to give.

So, think through some of the perceptions that people may rightly, or very wrongly, have. How can you address those in your first days back at work?

What might be worrying your partners about your return to work?

John: Again, I think you’ve hit it absolutely right Heather, it is about thinking through.  I suppose I’d put it a slightly different way: Put yourself in the position of the partners in the organisation you’re going back into.  If you were them, what would be worrying about you coming back in?  What would they be looking forward to?  Don’t focus just on the negatives, remember there will also be some positives.

Build on the positives, the ones that they will really want you for. Then think about how you can minimise the negatives and demonstrate that there is no need to worry.  And maybe, in some cases, if you really think there is an issue, have the conversation. Pick the right time and environment to have a conversation about “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were worried about my level of commitment having been out for a while, let me talk about that.  This is how I’m going to demonstrate how I’m committed, if you don’t think I am at any point, then tell me’.

Time away from work is likely to happen to many professionals, particularly women, although not exclusively. While you are gone, the gap you leave will be filled, and you will need to reestablish your place and your worth upon your return to work. You have the advantage, however, of being able to start almost from scratch and design how you want to come across.  Be upfront about any concerns you are aware people mau have, and meet them head on.  Answer the issue before it becomes one.

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