I suppose now having returned back to work full time it would be reasonable to reflect on how it has gone so far. Futhermore, and this was good advice given to me, it should be worth considering those of whom are at a point whereby they too are thinking of returning or about to return to work.
Now I know I have previously written about returning to work when I wrote ‘The Philosophy of Returning to Work’. However, this piece is going to be less philosophy and more reflection. Or, to put it another way an ‘idiots guide’ to returning to work after a long period off.
Great works of fiction
Firstly, lets not be under any illusion when I suggest that you have been the topic of conversation at some point whilst being away. I can consider that I have been lucky in that respect as I was told by a number of friends that I was. However, what I found deeply amusing was that the stories about my absence were wide and to some extent quite entertaining. The reality is that there is only one factual explanation and it is you who has it. As a result I found (and still consider) it best that if people asked me why I had been absent I told them. Almost instantly, with the truth now being out from the’ horses mouth’ (so to speak) the more adventurous elaborations were instantly put to bed.
With this in mind, having returned (appearing unscathed) I generally don’t think people were too bothered about it all. One day I was away and the next I wasn’t. It was that superficial. That simple.
Was you away??
Interestingly I spoke to a colleague whilst sat outside the local Accident and Emergency department doors waiting for a ‘shout’. She raised a point that I have often thought but never really considered beyond the thinking part. She stated that in our line of work we can go for months without seeing specific people and when we do eventually catch up it may have seemed like weeks rather than months of absence. As a result, I suppose old un-concluded conversations are revisited and same old dilemmas are discussed. In effect, nothing if anything has changed. In many ways I had picked up where I had left off.
When you think about it it’s not just about you returning to work but it is also about allowing other people back into your life. For me the time I had off was a great period of re-evaluation and reflection. I had spent days deciding on what and who matters in my life and daily existence.
However, I had a ping of guilt when I returned and realised there were people I had forgotten about or had not given a second thought of. But the real comfort came when these individuals actively approached me in the corridor, staff room or even in the toilet and said how nice it was to see that I was back. That was a real warm kind feeling. These people of whom I had temporarily put to the back of my mind had put me to the front of theirs. For me this was the kind of welcome I felt grateful for. It was both kind and considerate.
It’s all so familiar
To date I have had no awkward silences or embarrassing avoidances. Indeed people know why I was off (either realistically or not) but either-way they knew I was off and now I was back. Just like before, people are asking for shift swaps or what shift I am on next week etc. In fact those ten months of absence may not have happened for both by colleagues and I. I was back to early starts, searching for a decent vehicle and attending a range of calls with people both new and old to the job. I still have the same dilemmas such as what to have for lunch or the fear of another late finish after a twelve hour shift.
Inwardly however, I am still able to chuckle at the patients who still persistently phone 999 for illnesses or conditions that do not come close to what I or others had suffered. Yes, the frustrations of the job had returned. But it was surprising to note how quickly it had returned yet also felt comfortably familiar.
Different strokes for different folks
It’s not just illness or circumstances that requires people to be away from work for long periods of time. I recall my first day as a qualified teacher after the summer holidays. As a new teacher I was excited about having my first form group and ready and prepared with my stimulating and informative lessons. However, in the classroom opposite was a (shall I say) more seasoned teacher.
Whilst standing in the doorway once the bell had rung she said how sick she felt. With concern I asked her if she felt well enough to be at work. In reply she chuckled ‘it is normal for all teachers to feel this way after the summer break’. In fact, she was right. As time progressed I too developed the sickening feel of returning to work after a holiday break.
The difference, however, from returning to work after a holiday break and a period of sickness is that following sickness you return when you are well enough to do so. In the teacher scenario you return when it is dictated so.
With this in mind my recent return to work was a better than that of a teacher but I had forgotten that. I was eager to return unlike many teachers who dread that moment.
Furthermore, depending upon your job or career path you may get what is known as a phased return. Whoever came up with this concept is a genius. For those not in the know, a phased return is allowing you to return to work on a slow and steady pace. For me I started on a couple of days a week on half a shift. After time both the days and hours increased concluding into a normal shift pattern.
I was placed with a paramedic I knew well and we were able to ‘chew the cud’ and talk openly and frankly about everything. For me it was a positive and welcoming return to work compared to the fears and intrepidation I had felt prior to returning.
What I am saying
I suppose that if you had found this page because you had googled ‘returning to work’ or you know someone who has been through a similar experience and knows they have to return my advice is simple. Just do it. Having a job to go to gives a person a purpose (I have never understood those people who refuse to work). If you fear returning because of what people may say or think the reality is that no one really cares. And the good people will be glad to see you back anyway. Furthermore, if you feel it is okay to do so, be honest about why you were away. It is better to lay those ghosts to rest but also to kill off the wild and fanciful stories that had been circulating prior to your return – regardless how funny they seem.