Are You Ready To Return To Work?

Check Your Readiness: Is It Time To Return To Work?

I wear two hats: helping clients with mental illnesses return to work and helping military transition to civilian employment. We often use SOC (stages of change) to assess if people are really ready to return to work. The decision to return to work is a thorny issue, one that is rooted in a number of issues affecting the unemployed. Among the thousands of clients I have assisted, including adults with severe mental illnesses, the decision to work again or to end a lengthy absence from the workforce necessitates careful thought and reflection. I wish I could credit the author of a resource called the “Readiness checklist.” The resource is organized into three categories:
  • Can you... ?
  • Are you... ?
  • Do you... ?
Leaving aside conventional wisdom, let’s put the “Readiness checklist” into context for you.

1. Can You Set SMART Goals?

Goal setting, more than any other activity in a conscious job search, is most likely to propel motivation. But one caveat. If setting goals seems daunting, do one simple thing: break them down into concrete steps. Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals. Seek new ways of using your skills. Volunteer, become a board member, or contribute to a social or charitable cause. When you are unemployed, doesn’t it seem like you have to juggle many things at once? For example, a last-minute phone call to attend an interview affects the ability to find respite care, or an employer requests that you fill out a lengthy online application before even being considered a job candidate. All of sudden, the length of unemployment is trumped by employers’ increased demands. All the more reason why time management, resilience (i.e. dealing with rejection), and coping skills become important while you await your job offer.

2. Are You Worried About Stress From Other People Or Things?

Take heart that being unemployed for a time does not have the same stigma that people experienced ten years ago. I certainly cannot negate that those who have been absent for the workforce for a considerable amount of time face a greater disadvantage. However, that’s where building one’s confidence with the assistance of a career professional such as a career coach or job developer can make a monumental difference. This process may seem time consuming, but you are worth it. Crafting a professional image, combined with identifying a USP (unique selling points) will be time invested, before preparing for upcoming job interviews.

3. Do You Know What Your Challenges Are?

For example, are you experiencing an ongoing illness or disability that may curtail full-time employment? This refers to “work tolerance skills.” In other words, do you have the ability to accept part-time employment as a springboard to ultimate full-time employment? Sometimes accepting an entry level position, especially after a lengthy absence from the workplace, is just the ticket to building one’s confidence (one shift at a time). I have assisted individuals with professional backgrounds (i.e. nursing, military, etc), who chose to return to work on their own terms, not by family pressures. At the same time, do you have the supports (i.e. family and friends, community resources, etc) to overcome challenges? This is where self-advocacy skills come into play. Be aware of community resources such as job centers or government subsidized programs. The number of unemployed individuals may be surprising to you. These individuals, at the beginning of their job search, are resistant to asking for employment assistance. I say "beginning" because the unemployment cycle resembles the stages of grief: shock, anger, denial, and acceptance. To sum up, a term I learned in the military was WIN: What’s Important Now?

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