The meaning of ‘a long time’ will almost definitely be different for everyone. Some people may have had a break in between university and finding employment, while others may have taken time off due to illness or because they’re having a baby. Or, given the current climate, maybe some people were furloughed or made redundant back in March, meaning that it’s been almost half a year since they last went to work in the traditional sense.
I fall into this last camp, having been on furlough for the last six months. I know I’m one of the lucky ones, especially as I returned to work at the same company on Monday. I’m working for two new magazines, but I’m essentially in the same role. Nevertheless, the ‘first day’ nerves hit me hard and I’m still reeling from the shock of it all. So, as a sort of note to self, as well as a comfort to anyone else in a similar position, I thought I’d pull together a couple of things that might help us cope with the first few weeks/months.
Sleep and eat often, rest when you can
Obviously sleeping is resting, but by ‘rest’ I mean relaxing, chilling out, taking a break. If you’re anything like me, then going back to work might set you off on a frantic course of busyness, meaning that you’ve started to fill your out of work hours with more stuff too. If you can, resist this temptation. Remember that work has now taken a significant chunk of your time away, so there’s no way you can do all the ‘extra’ things you were doing before.
This won’t apply to everyone, but I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that I can no longer spend as much time on freelance pitching as I did while on furlough. Clearly this is obvious, but it is still managing to make me feel guilty. My success rate for getting commissions is incredibly low, so I’ve just got to accept that my freelance output will now be even lower than it was before!
Oh, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to eat and sleep properly – you’ll be much more productive. (I have been sleeping terribly for the last two weeks, so can confirm that working on a few hours sleep is less than ideal).
Remember that you’ve done this before
It’s easy to feel as though you’re starting from scratch, even if you’re returning to the same role or company. Depending on how long you’ve been away, you might feel completely out of your depth to start with, and you probably will have forgotten some of the finer details, but remember that you were capable of learning all this before. At one point, you were starting from scratch, so this time it can only be easier. After a couple of days, things will start to feel more familiar again and you’ll remember how you used to work. I’ve just finished day 3 and I’m already feeling (slightly) more confident in my ability to do the job.
Ask lots of questions
You’re not technically ‘new’ anymore, so is it still okay to ask lots of questions? Definitely, although try to trust your instincts too. Chances are, you probably do know what you’re talking about. But, if you really aren’t sure or want to get a second opinion, no one is going to think any less of you for asking. Your colleagues would much rather you got it right, even if it does feel like a newbie question. Also, if you do make a mistake, learn from it and move on. It’s unlikely to be a matter of life or death (unless you’re a medic), so whatever it is is probably redeemable. My editor was telling me today that an editor he used to work for would wait until the magazine had gone to print, then smugly place the finished product on my editor’s desk with all his mistakes circled in red. Hopefully your colleagues are a little more understanding.
Give yourself time to adjust
Going from zero to one hundred overnight is hard. You might hit the ground running, eager to get back to doing something useful. But you also might take a while to get used to it. This will be especially strange if you’re working from home when you start up again, as your environment won’t have changed, but suddenly the expectations placed on you have undergone a ginormous shift. Last week your biggest decision of the day was what to have for lunch. Now, you’re being expected to contribute to a budgeting meeting, run multiple social media accounts and websites, interview people, deal with clients and make important commercial decisions. No wonder it’s a bit of a shock. Feeling overwhelmed is normal and is part of any major change we may go through in our lives.
I’ll be straight with you – I am very tired and this could all be a load of rubbish, but it was quite helpful to remind myself of some of these things. In a classic Harriet move, I decided last week that I would start writing a blog post once a week, despite the fact that in the last six months of furlough I only wrote about ten posts overall. But here we are, welcome to my brain! Let’s see how long I keep this up.
What other advice would you give someone going back to work after a break?