The Secret to Going Back to Work with Confidence
Going back to work after an extended break can be challenging. It’s completely normal to feel anxious or nervous. Maternity leave, an illness, an extended holiday or, of course, the Coronavirus lockdown; just a few examples of situations when you could have been out of your ‘work mindset’ for some time.
You’re not alone. I speak to people regularly who have lost confidence because they’ve been away from the workplace. This in turn has caused them to question their ability which can lead to a dip in self-esteem. Firstly, I want to reassure you that these feelings are completely normal and, in fact, there’s a positive in feeling a little anxious. Anxiety is your minds way of preparing you for the challenge ahead. If you embrace this feeling, you can use it to help you.
Using just forethought and preparation, I want to show you how you can…
Make the transition back to work as smooth and stress free as possible.
Be productive and motivated after an extended break.
Are you feeling anxious about going back to work?
During lockdown, I’ve spent time supporting people who have been feeling anxious about going back to work.
Here are some of the concerns they’ve been expressing….
Plus a number of people have been telling me they are concerned about just getting back into the discipline and structure of ‘work mode.’ This is completely understandable after being in a completely different frame of mind and routine for some weeks.
Working out why you feel anxious is a great place to start. If you can identify actual reasons, you can start to address them. Thinking logically like this and looking for ‘evidence’ can really help because it’s easy to start worrying for no rational reason.
A common phrase I’ve noticed people using is ‘What if?’ – What if this happens, what if that happens? This is a completely normal way to think but worrying about unknowns makes no sense at all; these things might not even happen.
One of my confidence course delegates, Mairead, is a good example. Mairead worked for a PR company and gave regular presentations to potential clients. She was good at her job and very confident in her role. Furthermore, she knew she was highly respected by colleagues and got excellent feedback from clients.
She had been on maternity leave and was starting to feel anxious about going back to work. Mairead had started to worry that she might embarrass herself. She convinced herself that she wasn’t going to be any good at giving presentations anymore. The worrying caused her to doubt her abilities and consequently lose her self-confidence. Mairead’s worry was irrational; yet she still couldn’t help doing it.
Take a moment to write down why you’re feeling anxious. Then look for the evidence. Be sure not to make assumptions without any rational reason that the problem will actually occur.
How to deal with the anxiety and move forward
Let’s say you’ve established there is something rational to feel anxious about. How do you tackle it? Try thinking of it as a two stage approach. Prepare first and then act.
Thinking ahead while you are still at home makes a lot of sense, particularly if you can’t help worrying about some of the unknowns you may face on your return. Ideally, if changes in your workplace are to take place, you know what these are before you go back.
Some decisions may have already been made. So, if it’s possible (and appropriate), contact your boss or colleagues who may know more about the situation. Do this now. If they know of changes being introduced, reflect on what these mean for you personally in terms of role and responsibility. Resist the temptation to see negatives in this; try to see the opportunities these changes may present.
Think about how you will approach the new situation. Then think about how will you adapt and what changes you personally will need to make. If it would help, do some research before you return to work and read up on new skills that might help you.
Reconciling your thoughts
If you find it hard to accept the need to make change or you’re afraid of it, there’s a simple process you can use.
Firstly it helps to ‘reconcile’ your thoughts with reality.
Thinking about making a change is an essential start; deciding to actually do it is harder. The reality is that nothing will happen until you make a conscious decision to act.
This ensures you move from thinking to doing. Reconciling with reality literally means getting real with the situation. In other words, do you actually mean it? It involves considering all the factors that could have implications for your decision.
Mental reconciliation is the first step towards action.
Switching your mindset
Next you need to ‘switch’ your mind set. This is particularly important if you have a pessimistic nature. Being negative about change causes indecision and procrastination. This makes it easy to find excuses not to move forward.
Having reconciled, you’ll naturally feel more positive. Ideally you should decide on some clear goals which you aim to achieve in your first few days back at work. So spend some of your time at home starting to plan; strategically initially and then shorter term to get things started quickly when you return to your workplace.
Making a plan
Simple questions you might ask yourself while considering new goals are…
What wasn’t going as I would like it to? How can I change this?
What have I been meaning to do for a long time but keep putting off?
Which opportunities have I avoided because I fear them or question my ability?
What resources/support do I need to do my job well that I haven’t got?
Who do I avoid? Who should I spend more time talking to/communicating with?
How do I show I care? Who should I show more interest in?
Also, try to think of other relevant questions which relate to you personally. For example; if you’re a manager you may consider questions about your leadership and management skills.
One way to make sure you cover everything is to create a mind map. Mind mapping is a simple, practical, creative thinking process. Jot down everything you can think of that has relevance to your new approach to your job. Consider your needs, your wants, your aspirations, your responsibilities, your family, your career and anything else you think is important.
Mind maps only work if you challenge yourself to be bold and imaginative. Don’t be scared to write down your aspirations. This will help you to think creatively. Then, using all your ideas, draw out some personal goals you’d like to achieve. I suggest focusing on a longer period first (say one year) and then drill down to a shorter term (say two months).
Be sure to keep track of the goals you decide on and challenge yourself every day to do something towards achieving them. Once you’re clear about your personal goals, think about the tasks you aim to tackle each day in order to achieve them.
Start this thinking process the day before; so think today about what you plan to achieve tomorrow.
Working out a plan with goals will reduce your anxiety levels because you’ll feel more in control. You can use this to help override your sense of worry and replace it with more positive and constructive thoughts.
Going back to work and taking action
See your return to work as a new, fresh start.
It will be a lot easier to take this approach if you have your plan. When you get back, build on your goals and the decisions you made while you were at home. If changes are being made that you couldn’t have foreseen, clarify what you need now to enjoy your job more and perform well. We all tend to resist change as a first reaction. So try to see the positives in it and hold back from the temptation to whinge or be negative.
Add to what you came up with at home and be clear about what you require from your employer in terms of resources and support to make your new situation work best for you. When the time is right (don’t delay too long), confidently explain this to your boss. Be honest and positive about it.
For example, if you’ve found it productive working from home, could you do it more and be equally if not more productive than you were before lockdown? Perhaps a change like this could enhance your work/life balance too. It could involve less commuting, more time with family and more opportunity to keep healthy.
Keep your colleagues informed too of what you’re doing. Set your expectations with them by being clear about any changes to your schedule or working hours. People will adjust quite quickly if they know what to expect. If you don’t inform them, they’ll expect you to carry on as before. Be empathetic to changes they might wish to make to their working patterns too.
Staying positive and motivated
If you do the things I’ve mentioned so far, you’ll be busy when you get back.
Here are some other practical things you can do too to stay positive and motivated and build on your new start. They are worth keeping fresh in your mind…
Be careful not to spend too much time with colleagues who communicate negativity or have a pessimistic approach. These people can easily set the seed of doubt in your mind about your new approach.
Negativity is contagious. If you catch it, a negative attitude can show itself in your body language. This tends to happen on a subconscious level but can still have a significant impact on others. For example, people don’t tend to want to be around negative thinkers because they find them depressing; they find positive people more exciting and interesting.
Be proactive and try to spend more time with positive, forward looking people in your workplace.
If you change your approach like this, you’ll notice it becomes easier to step forward and volunteer for challenges you previously would have avoided. If these tasks challenged you, other people may find them hard too. So try to see these situations as opportunities to show your skills, not nightmare scenarios to be avoided. Peoples’ respect for you will build if they see you taking on these jobs.
You will find your anxiety levels reducing too. When you are busy, particularly when the tasks are challenging, you don’t have time for anxious thoughts. You are too busy thinking about the task at hand.
So, starting right now, open your mind, make a pact with yourself that you will approach going back to work as a fresh start. Your mind map and goals will give you something solid and constructive to work with. They will give you the strength of mind to follow this through.
Here are some tips to help you be confident at work and keep the momentum going
Be proactive; volunteer for tasks, don’t wait for someone to ask you to get involved.
Show physical confidence; be conscious of how you look and sound. Be proud with your body language. Use your voice, facial expressions and eye contact to show your confidence when you come across to people. You can project confidence by making some small adjustments.
Continually remind yourself that change is a positive thing. Don’t be frightened of it. If you don’t open your mind to the need to do things differently, you can’t learn, improve and develop.
Break routines. Spice things up. That will help you to feel more motivated and have knock on effects in terms of your positivity
Looking for more support with going back to work?
If you’re struggling with a specific situation, our one day confidence courses are an excellent way to focus on a plan and boost your confidence levels. We take just six people on each course. They are run by Mike McClement, a UK confidence coach and author of the best-selling book ‘Brilliant Self-Confidence’. During the day Mike will help you to address the specific challenges you are worried about and you will come away with a plan to put into action. This will leave you feeling more positive and in control when you return to work. Mike’s Online Confidence Course is also a very popular resource if you want to learn independently. This is a 4 Step Plan you can follow at your own pace in your own time.