8 August 2019
If you’ve taken some time out to have a baby or raise young children, returning to work can be a bouquet of mixed emotions.
On the one hand, it can be hard to leave your little one in the care of others. On the other, it can be exciting to get back to adult conversations and to use skills you took time and effort acquiring in the first place.
At WOMBA we regularly see parents struggling to meet a high bar that they set for themselves, especially in terms of how quickly they expect to be back up to full speed.
One of my WOMBA partners, Alison, uses a really helpful metaphor. If you are a regular gym goer, the chances are you are familiar with the receptionist, you know the layout of the gym, you have a regular routine and you know your own fitness level. You are skilled at making conscious choices around how hard to push yourself.
What if you haven’t been to the gym for over a year, and it’s day one of your return? The receptionist has changed, the equipment has moved around and some of it is unfamiliar. You feel self-conscious as you step onto the first piece of kit, and this is only made worse as you start to huff and puff from putting your body under unfamiliar physical pressure.
Now consider how it might feel a couple of months down the line. And again in six months. In a year’s time, the first uncomfortable visit is probably a distant memory.
In the same way our fitness levels might drop after time away from the gym, it is perfectly possible to not be as ‘work fit’ after a year’s leave.
An unexpected insight from a recent workshop participant was on the usefulness of the word absolutely in helping set a sensible pace for work. , On returning to work, she had learned to not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ too quickly a request. When she’d said yes, she’d realised she was not ready to perform the task as quickly or as competently as a colleague already immersed in the office day to day. This knocked her confidence levels and left her worried she was not hitting the required standard. But by saying ‘no’, she felt she was coming across as unwilling or incapable.
By using absolutely, she didn’t commit to the task either way. It could be understood as, ‘absolutely yes’ but equally it could be taken as, ‘absolutely no’. Whichever way, it bought her time to think. And when she thought out loud, it worked even better.
Some examples of absolutely in action:‘Jane, can you do this?’
‘Absolutely. IT haven’t reinstated my access yet, but as soon as they have, I’ll be on it.’
‘Absolutely. It’s not an area that I am familiar with, but if you are OK with me shadowing Bob for a couple of days, I’m sure I’ll be able to get it done’.
‘Absolutely. I have twenty minutes before I leave today, and I can probably free up some time tomorrow morning to finish it off. Would that be OK?’
Get the gist? What a clever way to buy time and manage expectations. The more I think about it, the more I absolutely love it.
We at WOMBA would love to hear any other clever tips you might have to help ease the transition of returning to work. Answers on a postcard please!