Smoothing your return to work

returners, returning to work
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By Kelly Feehan, Services Director at CABA

Whether you’ve been on maternity leave, have taken a sabbatical to travel or have been off work for a lengthy period due to illness, one common factor in all these circumstances is that returning to the office after a career break can be extremely daunting.

What if you’re not up to the challenge anymore? Or you don’t fit in with the new team dynamics? On top of this, establishing yourself (again) and proving your skills can seem impossible. Research by Women Returners revealed alarming statistics that 36 per cent of women expect to be demoted after returning to work. Either because their circumstances have changed, and they aren’t able to negotiate a fair deal within the role, or they lack confidence to convey their value to a company.

What’s more worrying is that there’s further studies to back this up. PWC found that three in five professional women returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, experiencing an immediate earnings reduction of up to a third.

It’s normal to experience a range of feelings as you prepare to return to work. How we manage the negative emotions is important so that we can achieve the most natural transition back into the workplace. We’ve shared our top tips on how to smooth your return:


A lack of confidence is often one of the biggest issues affecting those returning to work. For some it might be hard to consider ‘picking up where you left off’ and entering a company – even if it’s your old workplace – at the same level that you left at. It’s important not to undervalue yourself in this situation. Be clear about your strengths and skills – including those that you’ve inevitably picked up during your break.

Staggered return

Confidence can be regained over time. First though, it’s often necessary to step back into the workplace to rediscover your capabilities. Undertaking unpaid or volunteer work is a great way to boost confidence and dust off your skills. If you’re returning to your old workplace, why not suggest a staggered approach to your return?

Talk to your employer and see if you’re able to negotiate a ‘staggered return’ – working just two days a week initially and then slowly increasing this to four days. Or, if you’ve recently had a baby, try and make use of ‘Keep In Touch (KIT)’ days. Employees can work up to 10 days during maternity leave, and are a valuable way of ensuring that you can keep your foot in with work. Keeping in touch with your team, your colleagues and even your clients can be a great way to make sure you’re confident in returning to work.

Updating your skills

There may be courses you can attend to update your skills – it’s always worth checking your local area. Refresher courses can be a great idea if you’ve been out of the workplace for some time and can help to improve your own confidence levels when you re-enter the workplace.


This is particularly relevant if you’re returning to work after maternity leave or if you’re leaving someone you’ve previously cared for. If you’re in this situation it’s important to remember the benefits of returning to work. For example, it can boost your own wellbeing and household income, which will have a positive impact on other aspects of your life.

Don’t ever apologise for taking a break. It’s not necessary and it will undermine your own value. Remember that as a woman returning to the workplace, you not only add value but can bring fresh thinking and a new perspective.

CABA is the charity that supports chartered accountants’ wellbeing. Whether you’re just starting out, looking to return to work after a career break or simply looking to take on a new challenge, visit to explore the tools you need to successfully supercharge your career.

About the author

Kelly Feehan is CABA’s Service Director, leading the strategic development, management and delivery of all UK and international services to improve the wellbeing of clients and delegates.

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