How do I recover from a sabbatical and transition back to a regular life?

This question came in from a reader recently, and it felt like the perfect one to put to our resident sabbatical coach, Lyndall Farley.

Here’s what she came back with…

Dear Rebecca,

I hope you’ve had a wonderful sabbatical, lived some bucket list dreams, reconnected with who you are and discovered what’s next for you.

But getting back to ‘regular life’ can be a jarring experience. It can be hard to re-enter your company or the workforce, and people may not understand your experience or new perspectives.

The good news is that it is possible to make this transition smooth by understanding what to expect and following some key steps.

Before Your Return – Reflect on Your Sabbatical

The most important thing to do before you return to work is to spend some time reflecting on your break and what has changed for you.

You’ve made memories and had some great insights. It’s important to capture these while they are fresh in your mind and with a positive mindset. Spend some time reflecting on your break and what has changed for you.

Returning to ‘Regular Life’

You will have changed in your perspectives and what’s important to you, but your friends and family may not know that yet. People will expect you to slot into the ‘old box’ they had you in. This ‘old box’ will feel uncomfortable – like it doesn’t fit you anymore. Be patient with people as they adjust to the ‘new you’ and learn about what’s changed for you.

You may feel like you were away for ages, but people may be surprised to see you back already. Your perception of time lengthens on a break when you’re more focused on living in the present moment. Don’t be offended and take it as a sign that you had a recharging, inspiring break.

Not everyone will be interested in how you spent your time on your sabbatical. Focus on sharing your stories with people who genuinely show interest, and don’t worry if other people don’t – everyone has their own stuff going on.

Returning to Work 

Being in a work/office environment may feel restrictive after the freedom you’ve had on your break, give yourself plenty of time to adjust and take time to walk outside or in different environments.

Conforming to work hours or schedules may feel tiring and constraining, so ease back into your work and consider slowly ramping up hours over the first few weeks.

If you’re returning to the same job/company, things might have changed – the company, the priorities, your role and this may feel confronting – give yourself time to adjust to the new normal. Conversely, don’t be surprised if you come back, and it feels like nothing has changed! This is actually also common. Businesses sometimes are slow to move and change so you may feel that while your whole world shifted, little actually changed in the business

How to Smoothly Return to Work

A smooth re-entry process is so important.

It allows you to calmly ease back into work and avoid becoming overwhelmed or losing sight of what you now feel is important in your life. It’s about finding a balance that honours your wellbeing and happiness and allows you to be productive and perform at work.

Set Boundaries

What you feel is important for you and your life may have shifted while you’ve been away. Set boundaries with work that allow you to live a balanced, happy life, while also fulfilling your responsibilities at work. Agree these with your boss and communicate them with people who may be impacted. For example, limiting overtime or work on weekends or working a few days from home.

Give yourself permission to say ‘No’ when your boundaries are pushed. You are the only person who will enforce your boundaries so guard them closely.

Look After Your Wellbeing

Keep a close eye on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing and make sure you build in enough time for you to recharge from work stress and fatigue. Your return will take more energy as you adjust, so attend to your self-care as though it is part of your job responsibilities.

Be kind to yourself and adjust your approach as you learn how to stay recharged at work. Apply the recharge model to get the most recharge value out of your time outside of work.

Connect With People

Make contact with the people who are important to you.

Celebrate your return with colleagues who you share a close relationship with. Share your experience with family and friends. Let them know you’re back and talk about your break and what you learnt. Let them know what’s changed for you and what’s important for you now.

Build a Support Network Around You

Build a network of people around you that will support your priorities, goals and new way of life. These people may a combination of family, friends, colleagues, a partner.

Ask for their support and give them time to adjust to the new version of you.

Consider hiring a coach to help you with this if you feel you’ll need some extra accountability and support.

Signing Off

For more details, including some reflection questions you can ask yourself as you finish up your time on sabbatical, download the free Return to Work guide from Beyond a Break.

And as always, I’m here to help, so feel free to drop me an email or book a time to chat with me.

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