Returning after a stress-related break
By Andrew Pirie
Earlier this year, a report commissioned by Workwear Giant showed that welfare professionals (which includes social workers) are amongst the top five most stressful professions in the UK. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to us, as we understand the pressures that you face and the context in which you work. Throughout our regular blog articles, we try to help you as we can to help limit your stress levels where possible. Just last month we spoke about why it’s so important that social workers take care of themselves, and we’ve previously explored how we can effectively prevent social worker burnout.
But we haven’t yet covered how you can return to your social work career after taking time out as a result of stress. Below, we give some suggestions for how you can successfully manage your return to the workforce.
Talk to your line manager about your stress levels
If you have been seriously affected by the effects of burnout, and you’re ready to return to the workforce, it’s important to address the issues which led to your stress in the first place. Simply returning to the same working situation will not resolve any issues so it’s imperative that you take the time to speak with your line manager and your HR representative to find a solution.
Good employers will be looking to support their staff and if you have been signed off sick by a doctor, you can expect them to make reasonable changes to support your return to the workplace. It may be something as simple as a phased return to work, or it could be permanent changes to your working hours.
Initiate discussions with your colleagues about mental health
When you return to the workforce, you may feel that everyone is talking about you, but the reality is that you won’t be alone. Statistics show that one in four of us will be affected by a mental health difficulty at any time and stress-related illnesses are a big part of this.
Your co-workers will understand and empathise with you – after all, they’ll be working under the same stressful working conditions. Obviously, you don’t need to tell them all the details for the reasons behind your absence, but if they are concerned about you, it may be beneficial to let them know if you are OK.
From a managerial/senior perspective, once you’ve been through it yourself, you’ll be more aware of the signs to look out for. Both in terms of managing your own health, but you may also spot the signs of when a colleague is in distress.
Make practical changes to your working practices
Your absence shouldn’t be seen negatively. Try to reflect upon your break and discuss with your line manager any practical changes which could help to reduce stress for yourself and the wider team. Perhaps you may benefit from additional training, or maybe your manager needs to ensure that effective supervision sessions are taking place. In our interview with Sass Boucher in a previous issue of Social Work News magazine, Sass told us how important it is that reflective supervision sessions also include time spent on personal reflection, not just on the specific case.
Speaking exclusively to us, she says: “We need to create a culture where it’s OK to take care of ourselves and encourage others to do so.”
Other changes you could suggest includes making sure that you have a good support network around you; not just at home but also within the office environment. Having someone to offload to and ask for support from can be extremely valuable. Whether you see that person as a mentor or just a trusted co-worker, it’s important to be able to talk to someone and have them to lean on during times of crises.
Moving on? How to explain stress-related career breaks to potential employers
You may decide that you’re not able to return to your initial workplace, and as such, may prefer to move into a new role. This may bring its own challenges – should you reference any lengthy career breaks on your CV? How do you answer stress-related questions in your interview? This is something that we come across regularly. If you’ve taken a long career break, then the first thing you will need to focus upon is ensuring that your registration is up to date with the HCPC. They have plenty of guidance on how social workers can return to practice. Once you've completed your registration activities, then you can focus upon your CV. We’ve shared plenty of guidance within our blog pages about how to write your social work CV. If you do have a lengthy career absence, then you can simply reformat it. Using years rather than months for dates will cover any recent short-term absences, whilst ensuring that your CV focuses heavily upon your skill set will help set you apart from other candidates. In an interview scenario, it’s important to remember that legally, prospective employers are unable to ask you about health-related matters. It’s entirely up to you whether you wish to disclose the reasons for your career break. However, you could consider framing it in a positive way.
If you’re asked a basic question about “how do you handle stress” then let the hiring manager know what reasonable adjustments, you know that you need. If you need more training on a specific piece of administrative software, or you know that you would benefit from mentorship or weekly supervision then tell them. Within an interview situation, it’s always wise to think of practical solutions to any common issues; it shows you as a forward thinker and a team player and could work to your advantage.
If you’ve been affected by a stress-related career break and you’re looking to get back into a social work job role, then please give one of our consultants a call. As well as helping you to formalise your CV, they’ll be able to share details of the wide range of job vacancies that we have available throughout the UK.