Returning to work from a career break during the Covid-19 pandemic

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In more ‘normal’ times there are many reasons people may choose to take a break from their careers, ranging from maternity leave and childcare or caring for a family member, to travelling, studying, volunteering or taking a sabbatical. Or it may be related to mental or physical health issues, or extended time out for stress and burnout. 

These days it may also be due to returning to work from a furlough or job retention scheme put in place by governments during the Covid-19 pandemic — read to the end for our top 5 tips on returning to work after furlough.

One thing all reasons for a career break share is that returning to work can feel surprisingly daunting, compounded by a loss of confidence and feelings of uncertainty and insecurity inherent to the pandemic.

Specifically for finance and accounting professionals, there may be changes to regulations and reporting standards to contend with, continued professional development (CPD) to update, rusty communication and people/client management skills to polish.

But not to worry — with planning and preparation, a smooth return to work is entirely achievable. 

Here are a few key things to consider:

Is your ACCA membership up to date?

Generally speaking, you won’t be able to practise as an accountant without an up-to-date professional membership. As an ACCA member, you’re required to show that you’ve kept up to date with industry developments by taking a certain number of units of CPD — 40 per year, of which 21 need to be verifiable. CPD may take time, so make it a priority. 

Read more about your membership status and place on ACCA’s register here and find our CPD area here

What might have changed?

Changes in accountancy can come thick and fast, so not matter how long you’ve been away from the workplace, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the latest accounting processes, including regulatory standards and statutory accounting formats, VAT thresholds and tax bands.

Also consider wider changes to the finance profession, such as innovations in accounting software, and an understanding of cybercrime, data security, social media usage, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation.

Our professional insights team have created a range of resources, covering anything and everything accountants need to know. Access professional insights

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What do you want to return to?

Even in these challenging times, accountants are in demand across all sectors and will be so increasingly as the world moves out of the pandemic and organisations seek to quickly recover.

A few things to consider about your return:

  • Would you like the familiarity of a similar role or are you ready for a change of direction?
  • Do you need to be able to work part-time or flexibly?
  • If so, which route is most likely to provide this?
  • Would you prefer to take part in a formal returner programme?
  • Are you keen to be client facing or would you prefer a support role?
  • What size organisation would you prefer to work in?
  • Would you consider going self-employed, as a freelance accountant or virtual CFO, or by setting up your own or practice or business?

The transition will likely be easier if you return to a similar role, or the same role for those returning from furlough. However, if you are keen to change direction, post-break is a great time to do so.

To help you make your mind up, ACCA Careers has a lot of information on roles and sectors suitable for accountancy professionals, as well as inspirational  interviews with ACCA members.

Where else should you look for advice (and jobs)?

ACCA has a deep well of resources and information about ACCA membership or practising accountancy, and even more in its FAQ pages.

If you’re looking for career advice and jobs, look no further than ACCA Careers, the ACCA’s dedicated recruitment portal for its members and students, with hundreds of advice articles and thousands of jobs globally.

Also consider your own network, which can be a great source of advice and leads. LinkedIn is probably the best online platform for this; if you’re not already on it, it’s well worth signing up.

Coaching programmes and other support groups are a useful way to overcome barriers to getting back into work. For example, Women Returners offer a range of coaching programmes for people who have had a career break.

Covid-19, self-reflection in lockdown and returning after furlough

Returning to work can be an exciting as well as daunting experience, but if it helps you find a career path that works best for you, then it’s ultimately worth it. And now may be the perfect time to try, after months of reflection and questioning during lockdown, you may have a clearer understanding of your goals and desires. ACCA Careers has a Covid-19 careers hub with content dedicated to mental wellbeing, job hunting during a crisis and industry insight.

Furthermore, the pandemic has created unique problems for workplaces, not least of which is workforce mental health and safety. Returning to work after furlough may be a source of anxiety for some, particularly after a time of reflection, introspection and mounting uncertainty, so here are a few tips on how to cope with the process.

4 returning to work from Covid-19 furlough tips

1) A phased return

Instead of going full time immediately, propose to your employer a phased return within which you gradually increase the hours you spend in the workplace over time. This may involve using annual leave to create shorter weeks, or you could try negotiating reduced hours for a set time period.

2) Maintain contact

Staying in touch with colleagues and bosses before returning to work will help reduce anxiety and to feel integrated. It’s easy to feel left out in the cold or forgotten about, but checking in with employers and peers regularly will smooth the transition back to work and limit any unwanted  surprises or feelings of being excluded.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Employers won’t know if there’s something wrong or if you need help unless you ask for it. Take advantage of any support processes organisations have put in place for staff returning to the workplace. Covid-19 has been a unique and unnerving challenge for everyone, you might well find a more understanding and open workplace upon your return.

4) Review your career goals

The break will likely have caused people to reflect on their careers and work situations, to ask themselves if they’re happy where they are, whether their career goals are on track. Don’t forget this in your return to work; after a few months review your happiness and career satisfaction levels, are you heading in the right direction, or do you think changes are needed?

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