Your Return-to-Work Survival Guide

They say it only takes three weeks to build a lasting habit, but what happens when your working life has been flipped like an acrobat for the last three months or years? It definitely feels like getting back into the groove of a workplace routine will take a lot longer than three weeks.

Returning to your workplace after a sustained physical absence, maybe parental leave, or an extended illness – let’s be honest, even a vacay where you have completely switched off (good on you!) takes time to readjust so how do you transition back to your standard work hours? Here are some simple steps to remember when setting your alarm for a new work routine.

Redefining Your Workspace

Hands up if you’ve ever experienced a ‘back-to-work brain’? Forgotten passwords, anxiety around inbox notifications in the triple digits, smashing that snooze button one too many times?

Returning to work comes with a spectrum of emotions depending on your circumstances and it’s important to remember that everyone has been in your shoes at one time or another and you’re not alone.

Adapting to your surroundings is human nature and if you’ve been on extended leave, there may have been some big changes that you’ll need to adjust to: restructures, new team members, or departures. Even small changes can seem overwhelming if you’re feeling a bit fragile. Be kind to yourself and bring a piece of home to your space – a plant, a photo, or your favourite mug or plate. This can be a small yet powerful psychological reminder of your usual space and help you transition back to a familiar routine.

Your manager won’t know how you are feeling unless you have an open discussion with them. Book some time to discuss your working arrangements, talk about how productivity levels may be impacted in either a workplace or home scenario. Most organisations understand that the physical and psychological health of their employees directly impacts all facets of business and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open following such a dramatic change to your new schedule.

Operationally, If you’ve come to an arrangement with your workplace to work from home part of the time, investigate whether there are any compensatory benefits to using your own equipment on your home days.

The Self-Care Upside

For some of us, the hybrid working model is a permanent reality. When working from home, it’s easy to slip into fluid hours, 5pm can easily turn into 7pm. A Friday task can slip to Saturday. Make a commitment to set positive personal boundaries to ‘leave’ on time and use your usual commute to truly switch off. Listen to uplifting music or a podcast on your favourite topic.

Physical activity has a direct correlation to your emotional well-being, so make time for a walk or cycle, try an active meditation focusing on your immediate surroundings and your breathing, and block out any negative thoughts and feelings. Setting a routine on a weekend to be organised for the week ahead – planning your work clothes, lunches or even a new travel timetable will take the stress out of pre-work time.

Remember, if you are struggling on any level with new changes whether it’s at home or with new work arrangements, find out if your work offers a counselling service or reach out to any of the free services available such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue or for employers, WorkSafe Australia has brilliant resources to lean on for guidance.

Honouring Our Differences

We are all unique and each individual deals with situations differently and to varying degrees. Some of your colleagues may be absolutely stoked to be back in a bustling environment whilst others need a gentler comeback. Try and be aware of those around you and their emotional well-being. Aggressive meetings or higher-than-usual workloads may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. A quick kind word or a coffee catch-up to step away from the overwhelming can do the world of good for everyone.

Most importantly and overarchingly, be kind to yourself. When we return to work after an extended absence, make sure you’re focusing on the trinity of well-being – good sleep, fresh air, and nutritious food. Before you know it, you will be back to a productive routine that seamlessly suits you and your place of work.