Try a little tenderness

I don’t know what it is about having extended periods of time out of work that contributes to a loss of confidence. Something about the disconnection from the work or the people? Or perhaps more likely, the absence of the daily validation of what one is worth through one’s contribution to a bigger venture. Whatever it is, it happens. Well, it happened to me anyway.

I’m a pretty resilient person who has weathered a number of (sometimes big) knocks in corporate and in my personal life. I had always bounced back. But here I was after over a year out of active work, feeling as though I had nothing to offer. I had reached out to various longstanding contacts in my network in an attempt to get back into the swing of things again but as I sat in front of each friendly face, the extensive experience I’d gained over the years seemed to vanish before my eyes. I was trying to summon up the jolliness and joie de vivre that I had always had but it felt like a mask. I felt a fraud, and that my experience was out of date, not wanted anymore. Who would employ me now? I had no faith that I had anything to offer.

And then something delightful happened. A contact I had had for over 20 years showed his belief in me by not just having a conversation but by inviting me to take part in an event he was running. He didn’t have to do it. You could even say that he was slightly bending the rules in doing it as this was an event for ‘members’ and I wasn’t one. But he did it. Taking part in that event made me realise that I did have something to offer. I was still vital. In fact, having spent that time out of active work – during which to be fair, I had kept up research and interest in my field – I found that I had a new and refreshing perspective to offer. That one event transformed me. It gave me the confidence and a momentum to keep up the journey back into meaningful work.

His kindness, his generosity of spirit was what I needed.

How can we support others who are coming back into the workforce after an extended period of leave, for whatever reason? How can we show our belief in others so that they have the opportunity to find their voice again? What small steps can we take to show that they are still vital? It’s going to be different for everyone, but business needs to do this to help people back into work. So many more people are coming back after medical treatment or after a period of caring for dependents or after mental health issues. We need their skills back in the workplace. We need to find the space in teams to welcome them back. We need leaders to reach out personally to show they still believe in that person and that the person is still vital. We need people in business to be kind and show tenderness and not judgement.

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