How to Amp Up Your Chances of Success When You Return To Work After A Break

Posted: July 25, 2019

The ‘Return to Work Syndrome’ affects a woman’s professional life significantly; however, not as much if you are prepared to handle it.

A hiatus in a woman’s career is mostly shaped by life events like marriage, spousal relocation, childbirth, motherhood, caregiving to ageing parents, mental health, and even bereavement.  

Those who return to work after a career break experience many conflicting emotions – elation at entering the professional environment again, but also anxiety about any loss of skills during the break, and stress on the home front.

Some of the key challenges that a woman may need to tackle when returning to work after a break are:

Re-skilling: In the absence of a formal work environment, most women get completely distanced from their jobs during their break which results in loss of self-confidence and causes anxiety. Anjali, a Project Manager with Accenture Hyderabad, leveraged the return to work program to return to work after a ten-year hiatus. The components of this program helped build her confidence, develop skills, build a network, and gain awareness of current trends. She says, “Returnships recognize that people who’ve had a career break still have skills that can be used to add value and contribute.” Women returnees must make the effort to re-skill themselves by looking up relevant courses and tutorials to make themselves feel relevant at work.

You can learn about the returnship program at Accenture from the video below:

Career Planning: Life events don’t always have to steer a woman’s career off the path. Instead, with proactive career planning, these transitions can be springboards for better and newer opportunities. Women returnees need to take stock of emerging work options like flexi-timings, work from home, freelancing, or project/contractual jobs. It’s important to explore such opportunities with an open mind and to ask of them. These options not only offer flexibility and control, but also allow them to remain engaged in the workforce rather than distanced from it.

Negotiation skills: Women are perpetually in a state of negotiation with themselves and the different members of their social and professional set-up, and often find themselves at a disadvantage. It’s imperative that women returnees learn to prioritize their goals and outcomes and learn skills to achieve the Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) in any situation. Online learning courses today allow you to better your negotiation skills to achieve what you want.

Mentorship: Mentorship can help women navigate their return to work. If your organization has not already provided you with a mentor, identify a mentor specifically to help you navigate this phase – ideally a senior woman leader who has been through a similar experience.

Women must learn and adopt some of these recommendations:

Awareness: Women returnees must proactively gain awareness of organizational policies, rights and benefits that are accorded to them on return to work. This will help them make informed decisions and choices.

Speak out:  Women returnees must go beyond their comfort zone to voice out their opinions and challenges, with their supervisors and spouses, when it comes to goal setting, achieving balance, and requesting support.

Self-discipline:  Women returnees must develop resilience and self-discipline to be able to successfully manage themselves, work, family, and time.

Share: This is an opportunity for women returnees to ‘give-back’ by being role models to newer women returnees and sharing their stories on social media and business networking platforms. In doing so, it allows for a shared sense of network and advocation for women returnships.

Lean In: Rather than be a wallflower, women returnees must actively engage and leverage internal and external networks to give them a sense of community. In a widely-viewed TED talk, Carol Fishman Cohen believes networking negates isolation. According to Carol, “It’s a great confidence boost to be back in touch with people and hear their enthusiasm about your interest in returning to work.

Learn: Women returnees must proactively take advantage of the training initiatives, and learning resources being offered to re-skill them.

The ingrained notion that career breaks are a no-no in one’s resume is more of a mindset problem, which needs to be changed. While returning to work after a break can feel onerous, you can make the transition easier by adopting these practices.

Gloria Steinem said in a talk at Columbia University, “When men have children, they’re more likely to be hired, and when women have children, they’re less likely to be hired because it’s assumed that they will be distracted. We have to equalize all of that.

To bring about this ‘equalization’, the onus also lies on women to utilise their time during their career break to maintain their skill set. If they are willing to take this first step, there are organisations that are willing to support their return-to-work journey.

The 2018 Working Mother & AVTAR Best Companies for Women Study have highlighted that 51% of the 100 Best Companies recruit returning women through formal programmes and 9% of their women hires are those returning to work.

Companies like Accenture among these, have a progression plan in place for women returnees and also assist them by offering mentoring and other resources they need.

Ultimately, with your own initiative and such organizational support, you are ready to continue excelling, as always!

In association with Accenture

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Marsha Lewis loves to watch shows with drama, bake bread, and attempts to maintain a

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