Overcoming Hurdles: 12 Strategies for Surmounting Challenges in Workforce Reentry
Returning to work after a career break can be a daunting task. To help you navigate this transition, we’ve gathered twelve insightful responses from professionals, including CEOs and HR Managers. From catching up on industry trends post-break to achieving work-life balance with a flexible schedule, these leaders share their personal challenges and how they overcame them.
- Catch Up on Industry Trends Post-Break
- Adapt to a New Workplace Rhythm
- Embrace the Digital Transformation Post-Pandemic
- Navigate Work-Life Balance as New Parent
- Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Knowledge Gap
- Recognize and Value Personal Contributions
- Regain Motivation and Structure the Work Week
- Stay Updated in a Changing Field
- Renew Your Work Connections Post-Break
- Reframe the Career Break as Development Time
- Adjust the Workload to Personal Energy Levels
- Achieve Work-Life Balance with a Flexible Schedule
Catch Up on Industry Trends Post-Break
After returning from maternity leave, I felt behind and out of the loop on current trends in the industry. I overcame this by networking actively across different industries, spending time on LinkedIn, and researching AI. It took a few months to get back into the swing of things, but having a growth mindset and taking it one day at a time is key.
Adapt to a New Workplace Rhythm
Every company operates to a specific beat. There’s a pace, a rhythm, a cadence by which work gets done. Finding your footing is hard enough when transitioning from another organization. When you’ve been on the sidelines for a while, it can be even more difficult to step in stride.
Your move? Resist the temptation to jump in recklessly. Instead, simply listen. You’ll pick up the tempo soon enough. This is not to dissuade you from showcasing your own voice. But the audience must be ready to hear you. As the experts say, you have to learn classical before you can play jazz.
Embrace Digital Transformation Post-Pandemic
Three years ago, I returned to work after a personal tragedy and becoming a new mother to two children, which took me out of the workforce for almost five years. The timing of my return, just after the pandemic, made the transition challenging! Not only did I have to quickly re-engage my brain and remember how to do the job I had been so good at, but I was also facing the demands of integrating new technologies into my daily role.
The difference five years had made! Seemingly, all of a sudden, there was hybrid-working, online meetings, productivity apps, online forums, and communication platforms to get my head around. Luckily, I had a wonderful colleague who felt my pain, guided me through the onboarding stage, and mentored me along the way.
When I look back, really, the biggest challenge was the mental shift I had to make. There was no point in resisting the digital transformation; to stay relevant, I had to embrace it.
Navigate Work-Life Balance as New Parent
Re-entering the workforce after the birth of my first child was one of the most challenging experiences in my career. At that time, I worked for an extremely understanding and flexible employer, and the pressure to be the best working parent was entirely my own creation. I wanted to make sure that I was coming back from leave just as I had left, fully engaged, hyper-collaborative, with strong work-life boundaries.
But, I wasn’t the same. The way in which I viewed the world, myself, and my future had all shifted. I needed to do the personal work to identify what my new values were and how they showed up in my workplace.
I also needed to figure out how to be okay with leaving work if/when my child became ill. I was able to get to this new place of being by sharing my experiences and making people aware of the challenges I was having. Transparency became essential in building confidence in this new version of self, asking for support, and remaining connected and aligned to my work.
Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Knowledge Gap
I notice that many of my clients struggle with feeling out of the loop or experiencing imposter syndrome after a career break. Keeping up with technology changes is hard, and they often feel behind. Add in feelings of insecurity and the change in schedule, and reentering the workforce can feel overwhelming.
I recommend remembering that you’re not as far behind as you think. Focus on what you do know and can learn, rather than everything you don’t “get.” You’ll quickly get up to speed.
Recognize and Value Personal Contributions
After selling a business, I spent quality time with my young son. When the idea of launching a new service-oriented business began taking shape, I encountered the challenge of determining my value. Even though I had stayed current on technology and industry trends, I undervalued the contributions I could bring to the table.
In that initial year, my clients benefited from my self-doubt until I took a step back to reflect on my extensive experience and the significant value I offered. Then, I began charging market rates, recognizing my true worth.
Regain Motivation and Structure the Work Week
One super-tough challenge I faced when I returned to work after a mini-career break was trying to get myself motivated and used to the regular work week again. No one goes into a career break and then comes back into their respective field of work like nothing happened. We take a career break to unwind and relax from the busy and stressful day-to-day, and can last quite a long time, years even!
When I came back from my momentary career break, it was extremely hard to reintegrate into the busy work week, and I felt my motivation to get hard projects done was very low. In order to combat this, I would reflect daily on the tasks I’ve done, what I can do to improve the next day, and I created a very thorough weekly work schedule!
The weekly schedule would not only keep me updated on upcoming deadlines and important events, but I would also add small notes about non-work events that I’ve been looking forward to!
Stay Updated in a Changing Field
Returning to work in the recruitment industry after a six-month career break following the birth of my second child presented several challenges.
One of these was that, despite its outward appearance of stability, the recruitment field is in a constant state of change, with new trends and technologies emerging regularly. This ever-shifting landscape left me feeling out of touch and uncertain about re-entering the workforce.
To overcome this obstacle, I reached out to former colleagues to gain insights into the latest developments and the evolving sourcing processes.
I also conducted online research, reading relevant materials, and staying up-to-date with the latest trends by engaging with online recruitment communities.
Furthermore, I tailored my resume to highlight my recruitment expertise, emphasizing the fundamentals of the profession.
Maintaining a positive attitude throughout my job search was essential, and staying focused helped me return to the workforce successfully.
Renew Your Work Connections Post-Break
Years ago, I took a short career break to focus on my family.
While I don’t regret taking the time off, if I had to do it again, I’d make more of an effort to stay connected to associates and colleagues.
I have an all-or-nothing sort of personality, and that works well when I’m deep into a project. However, giving myself permission to unwind didn’t need to result in broken connections, and I wish I’d reached out regularly to those still working in order to stay informed and up-to-date.
Getting career-focused again is hard enough; I made it more difficult than it needed to be by letting work friendships lapse.
To renew my network, I had to put in real work on weekends and evenings for about a year, attending events and expos I used to eschew.
Reframe the Career Break as Development Time
When I returned to work after taking a break to parent my children, the toughest response came from within. I felt guilt for putting my firm on the back burner for close to a year.
As the owner of a female-majority recruiting firm, I knew I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. In the past, I’d reassured many employees about the same thing, telling them not to worry about their careers while on maternity leave.
And yet, when it came to myself, I struggled to believe the things I’d said.
A therapist helped me get through it. She recommended I write down all the skills I’d gained in my time outside the office. By doing so, I could reframe my time at home as development. For example, upon returning to work, I had more patience and empathy. Little things didn’t bother me as much as they used to.
Once I focused on these benefits, I no longer saw my career break as something I needed to apologize for.
Adjust the Workload to Personal Energy Levels
When I returned to work after volunteering abroad, I found getting accustomed to a repetitive 9-5 agenda challenging.
During my career break, I had the luxury of creating my own schedule and choosing working hours according to my energy levels and other commitments.
Once I got back to a typical working setup, it was very challenging to get accustomed to the new rhythm. As a night owl, I suffered greatly from tiredness and a lack of morning productivity. I blamed new habits and hoped my body would finally catch up with the new pace, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
In the end, I decided to distribute my workload differently. I moved less-demanding and automatic tasks, like managing my mailbox, to the beginning of my day, so I had time to warm up. Then, I moved to the activities which demanded more creativity and focus. It required some arrangements and agreements with my colleagues, but it worked and I felt relieved to regain control over my productivity.
Achieve Work-Life Balance with a Flexible Schedule
When I returned, balancing my job and family life was a huge problem. I was used to being completely present for my children, and the guilt of not being as present weighed hard on me.
I handled this by developing a flexible work schedule, negotiating with my employer for remote-work choices, and incorporating my family into a shared household chore plan. Open communication with my family and workplace, as well as a planned schedule, helped me in achieving a work-life balance that suited everyone.