Returning to Work After an Extended Break

Many people think their work environment is something they never forget. But once you are away from the day-to-day workings of a location, small things that you should remember can, in fact, be lost from memory. That can include the safety procedures and how to follow them. This is why there is an increase in safety accident or violations when people return to work after an extended break.

There are a number of reasons people take an extended break from work. Some of the most common are an extended vacation, maternity leave, or a long illness.

When you return to work after such an absence, it is vital that you reassess your work environment and make sure that you know all of the safety procedures. In addition to the ones that were in place before you left, it is highly possible that new safety rules have been instituted which you need to know. If you were also away from work due to illness or injury, it should be assessed whether the work you are about to undertake will in anyway create further aggravate any lingering condition.

Get Back in The Groove

When many people return to work after an extended leave they put pressure on themselves to jump right back in and be up to speed immediately. This is not only stressful – it’s also unnecessary. Take a little time to make sure you know what is going on. If there are any new programs, systems or processes in place, learn them and make sure you know what you are doing before you rush forward. Another wise step is double-checking your role. During your absense parts of your previous job may have been made redundant, or certain procedures may now be outsourced or part of someone else’s responsibility. You don’t want to step on any toes, or double-up on work, so do the wisest thing and ask.

What has changed?

Chances are there are a lot of things that will change if you are on an extended leave from work. From the faces you are seeing to how things are done; a workplace is an ever-changing environment. Because of these changes, there could be a completely different feel in the office. 

Not only can the faces working in your office change, but also the attitudes and thoughts of those who are still there. If the office has changed around them while you were gone, they may suddenly seem very different, as they react to their surroundings. Give yourself time to adapt to all of this. The ‘in crowd’ when you left may now not be so popular, and a negative or unempathetic supervisor may have created trouble and pessimism throughout the rest of the workforce.

You may find that you have changed too. Your extended leave may have given you the ability to see your workplace through fresh eyes… you may now be seeing the forest for the trees! But now is not the time to suddenly rush in and blurt out that the rest of the staff are doing it all wrong! Remember, they aren’t seeing things the way your are… yet.

Be tactful in your communications, back up your observations with specifics, and help to find solutions. There is nothing more annoying to someone who has been ‘doing the job’ being told they are doing it the wrong way, with no offer of a solution.

Get Help

If you are not sure about anything going on in the workplace, ask for help. This may be a stretch for some, as many people don’t like to ask for help. Many believe that asking for help makes them appear incompetent or that they have failed to keep up with the times.

A simple, “Just double-checking, do you want me to …?” is one way to ask for guidance. Or as I heard a worker say after he returned from a rather long leave of absense (years ago when I first worked at a refractory company), “Alright you mongrels, take me through the job from start to finish, so I know what parts you lazy b******ds are now getting machinery to do!” And they did, with much laughter and no lack of respect.

Remember, you have been gone for a while. A new employee gets time to learn and understand the workplace dynamics – why can’t you? You have been gone for some time and should be given time to readjust to your environment.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (3)

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  1. Trevor says:

    I have to agree with these comments; even after a short break you need time to readjust to a working routine and to pick up the threads of what has happened in your absense

  2. Cyril Fegan says:

    Returning to Work Following Bereavement.

    A week after my wife died (1990) I returned to work teaching unemployed students the skills needed to secure gainful employment. On the inside I was an emotional mess and on the outside I wore my “I’m Okay Mask”. For 12 months I drove to and from work and I did not remember any road features between home and my workplace in that time! I was on automatic pilot.

    I mention this because I believe insufficent attention is given to workers who suffer a bereavement with respect to ‘safety on the job’ and in my case traveling to and from work along with student workshop activities that involved training students in the safe use of power tools.

    Organisations need to be aware of the risks associated with workers dealing with ‘grief and loss’ especially if the worker is involved in work activities that involve the use or operation of any type of powered equipment or in any commercial activity that might impact on the company legally or financially.

    The worker clearly wants to keep his/her job, the company needs to be continually focused on risk management and the worker needs to make an extra effort to stay safe.

    It would be interesting to hear how organisations manage the issues of grief and loss for their workers.

  3. Denis Prollius says:

    Many years ago I was working as the only electrician in a “sand mine” on King Island. My Little girl got hit and killed by a car 2 weeks before her third birthday, well I just didn’t turn up for work for a week or so then one Sunday the shift foreman came up to say how desperate they were and needed my expertise, so I remember going in to fault find the controls of a high voltage DC separator, the next thing I realise I had a metal handled knife cutting through the insulating of a live conductor, well that quickly brought me to my senses I realised that I was working in, like a trance or something.

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