Historically, returning to work was typically after a long period of absence, sabbatical or maternity leave but the last year has added a new scenario altogether – furlough.   It is important to remember that everyone reacts differently to situations and whilst for some, returning back to work can be an exciting prospect, for others it can feel very daunting.

In this blog we are going to look at what challenges could be faced when returning to work, how team leaders and managers can make things easier for individuals and the surrounding team and how training and other changes might help a smoother transition.


What are some of the returning to work scenarios out there?



Returning to a previous employer after working somewhere else


Returning to a previous employer can be a lovely thought and can work out really well for some people particularly if things haven’t changed too much.  Be conscious that if someone is returning to a company after time away that it may be a very different place to when they left.

Old friends or managers who still remain at a company may have changed job roles over the time they have been away and that can change dynamics or even friendships. It is probably rare but the way an individual can be perceived may also change, particularly if they decided to leave the company and then return.

When we telephone interview candidates and talk through their CV’s we often hear that a person has tried to return back to a company but the feelings haven’t been the same and they have struggled to adapt or fit in somewhere where they once loved working.


Returning from furlough


Don’t be fooled by the adjustments staff may have subconsciously made whilst being on furlough. They may have chosen to volunteer or redeploy themselves during this time in order to keep themselves busy and they will have learnt new routines probably without even realising. If you have put your team into work bubbles then working hours may have temporarily adjusted and is important to be aware that this may affect commitments outside of work or family life so stay abreast of what is happening.

Some teams and companies may have members of staff who have been shielding and have been unable to complete their work from home. There will also be some people who are recovering from the effects of Covid-19 and have been placed on furlough in order to take the time out to rest. Supporting these people as they return to work will require a lot of your support, potentially new policy and procedure in place and understanding.   For more on this see our blog on returning to work post furlough.


Working from the office again


Working from the dining room table or the spare room may not sound very glamorous but for some people it has been a welcomed change from working in a busy office Monday – Friday. Office layout may have changed since employees were last in the office due to safety measures and people may be working in different offices or may be more cut off for their own safety. Working tempo’s, habitual routines and even productivity may be different for people when working from home. Workplace mindset could be a bit adjustment for some going from the peace and quiet at home to the hustle of a busy office.


Maternity /Paternity leave


Arguably this can be one of the biggest challenges for someone returning back to work. The hours for this person might be completely different to what they were before and they may struggle with the change in volume of work they can manage effectively or even responsibilities they carry.

Managing their time between childcare and work can seem relatively straight forward on paper but logistics, stress and potentially a lot of fatigue can cause a lot of stress and sometimes overwhelming.


Returning from long term sickness absence


If an employee has had a period of absence due to illness, they may return needing adjustments, retraining or even phased return.

The most important thing to discuss with the person is, are they ready to return to work? Talking it through in a meeting will help the employee to decided whether they feel ready to return to work or any worries or concerns they have about returning to work. Recommendations from medical professionals such as the employees’ doctor may help with arranging a return to work date and the activities that the person will be able to safely carry out.

Confidence may be lowered depending on the amount of time they have spent away from the workplace and conversations should be arranged to be open and honest about what the person feels they are able to do.

Reasonable adjustments may need to be made to their workplace and these will need to be in place before an employee returns to work.


Coming back from Travelling


Some people begin their job search while they are still abroad to try and get some work lined up before they return home others may not be so organised.

If you are in the process of hiring someone who’s most recent job title is travelling around the world don’t panic. Often people will put their experiences or achievements both paid or voluntary from their travels on their CV and you should consider using these as discussion points for training and onboarding.

This person may bring a fresh approach to working processes, think outside the box and bring a welcomed injection of enthusiasm but how can you ensure they are adjusted to the demands of the workplace again?


How can you overcome these challenges?


A new job or returning to a company


Time is crucial particularly when someone is joining a new organisation. The world that surrounds us today is filled with instant reactions and you might be thinking ‘I employed this person because they said they could hit the ground running, I don’t have time for them not to’ and that may be true, but no one is that perfect! By allowing new team members time to adjust and possibly help with getting to grips with everything will benefit you more in the long term.

If you are seen to be unsympathetic or pushy it can knock or a person’s confidence or even in extreme cases make them want to leave and that creates an even bigger problem for you than before.

A thorough onboarding will help with this, perhaps giving the new employee reading or videos to watch before they even join your company may help speed things up for you. Arrange for the new person to meet with different members of the team, maybe even different management levels to help understand how to hierarchy works in this organisation.

If a former employee is returning back to a company some years later we would suggest a similar onboarding process. Whilst the former employee may think they know how everything runs, it will be useful for them to know whether there are new processes, systems or new management. Ensure conversations are kept open and transparent.

Unsure how to onboard remotely or you have reservations? Check out our specific blog on virtual onboarding and tips to help with this.


Returning from furlough


During the period of furlough hopefully you have been able to remain connected to your team. Weekly or fortnightly catch ups are a good way of employees remaining connected to the organisation and it can be as simple as arranging a phone call or zoom with them just to check in and see how they are doing.

Be conscious on the impact that furlough may have had on your team in both positive and negative ways. A return to work meeting is a great way to outline expectations when returning from furlough and what the individuals job will look like as this may temporarily be different. One idea to overcome challenges of readjusting is bringing back staff members part time. That way they can start to get back into work mode whilst readjusting to the balance of home and work.

If Covid restrictions prevent you from bringing employees back all together, be open to accommodating people back to the office on a part time or rota basis remember that everyone’s home circumstances are different. Give training opportunities either through videos or through shadowing. When we returned back from training we shadowed Emma on our new adapted way to working as well as focuses on specific roles to work on to ensure we could remain focused.

For our experiences with furlough and returning back to work why not check out our other blog found here.

Working from home


If you are forced to work from home or perhaps looking to explore the option of permanently working remotely then it could be beneficial to allow employees to take equipment home to enable productively.

Duty of care is also important now more than ever especially while Covid is so prevalent. Desks, chairs, computer monitors and keyboards can all help increase a persons work. Consider how staff actually get to work, if they require buses, trains or maybe once car shares, ask yourself the question is it really worth bringing them back to the office at the moment? By setting people up to work remotely you are protecting potential anxieties, cement confidence in your employees and potentially also prevent any problems with work flow or desk coverage.

On the flip side of that if a member of staff is struggling mentally from working from home and perhaps live alone, try and work with them to try and get them working either with another person remotely where they can zoom call to discuss or encourage them to come back to the office as soon as it is advisable to do so.

Ensuring you have your employee buy in is crucial when you are changing anything. Make sure employees understand why they may be working in a different space and how new practices need to be introduced for health and safety purposes.


Maternity / paternity leave


Conversation is really important tool when helping an employee adjust following maternity leave. Ensure weekly catch ups are either in place with management or a team member where the staff member knows it is an opportunity to raise any concerns or problems being faced.

Give them the time to learn how they did their job, but differently. If they are returning to the same job but on a part time basis they physically will not be able to complete the same volume of work and that can be quite frustrating and emotional for people. Allowing people to take their time ensures a smoother transition back in to the workplace and can help establish new routines quicker.

Reset expectations with the team before this person returns. If they were the most hardworking, or the person that completed the most amount of extra hours, then look at the expectation that they are going to be the most efficient with their time. By talking to the wider team on the expectations of this person re-joining it helps strengthen relationships and enables the team to be a better support when it is needed.


Returning to work following long term sickness and absence


The actions from leadership will play a crucial part in a successful return to work following long term absence. Depending on the severity of the absence and the personal preferences of the employee we would suggest keeping them updated with any big changes within the offices or events that may be upcoming. Try and remain positive and understanding as best as possible, not only are you being supportive but it also helps build confidence and trust in employees particularly to those who don’t seem as confident as they once were.

If the employee is returning to work with a disability or effects from illness you may need to consider changes to workplace or making reasonable adjustments such as, adding or removing furniture, appropriate desk access, modifying hours, duties or equipment. If a phased return to work is suggested then establishing an employees assistance programme (EAP) may be a great framework for both parties to work with. This should be designed and completed together with the employee and open dialogue throughout is key.

Phased returning to work can be really beneficial for employers but you must be aware that you will need to patient and allow the appropriate time the employee needs to readjust back into work. Ensure you stipulate from the beginning that hours and duties should increase if the employee is adjusting and coping well but that it is nothing to be afraid of.

Coming back from Travelling


If their start date is a few weeks away then you could consider inviting the new recruit in to either spend time shadowing members of the team or invite them in for a small social event such as lunch to get to know some of the team. If that isn’t possible and there are quarantine barriers in place consider sending training videos, manuals or reading lists over to encourage them to take a look or read into those. If it is possible, ask the new employee to look over the materials between their new working hours. That way you are starting to introduce working habits or establish working routines hopefully making the transition to formal work easier.

Hopefully we have covered some of the challenges that employers and employees may face when returning back to work and ways to try and overcome them.  Our speciality lies within recruitment and with our partnership approach we can help iron out some of the problems to take the stress away from you.

If 2021 is the year that you look to expand your team why not get in touch and see how we can help.