I had taken a sabbatical of 2.5 years due to medical reasons. I resumed work after full recovery. On my return, I am being treated differently by my co-workers and managers, who think I am still unfit. I’m not given key assignments. And whenever some crucial work comes my way, it’s on sympathetic grounds. Even if they involve me in certain activities, it’s merely a formality. I feel very isolated. What should I do to ensure my career gets a boost and I am treated equally at the workplace?
Abhijit Bhaduri replies: The workplace is a competitive space where several people battle for a few resources. And the struggle triggers all those negative aspects – jealousy, politics and elbowing out the ones who seem to be potential competitors. Instead of wishing it away, it helps to remember that this is not unique to your situation but happens across when resources are limited than the number of people who want it. Even if there is enough for everyone, there are always greedy people who want not just their share but also look to corner what belongs to others.
Here’s what can help you make progress at work:
1) Shape the perceptions of your colleagues: You cannot control what others think. But you can surely shape their perception by the way you behave. Treat your current stint as if you are a new hire in the organisation. Participate actively in meetings and volunteer for projects when there are opportunities. This conveys to everyone that you expect to be treated on a par with everyone else because you are as good as them.
2) Update your skills: The average tenure in a job is close to 4.5 years. The half-life of most skills is five years. Technical skills start thinning out in 2-3 years. An absence of two and a half years may mean you have to update your skills and possibly learn new ones that have come into the workplace while you were away.
3) Learning ability matters more than tenure: If you learn about the business, customers and processes (whatever is relevant to your role) as if you have joined this organisation for the first time, you will enjoy learning about things around you with a child-like curiosity. When you combine that ability to learn with the ability to work hard, you build a reputation of being someone to look out for. Such a reputation always attracts opportunities.
4) This is a fresh inning: When we think about our time in the organisation in terms of the combined tenure, we are likely to feel a sense of entitlement. That may set our expectations of how we feel entitled to be offered opportunities. Your colleagues have had an extra time of 2.5 years to prove their worth. Your time starts now. Your colleagues may have got complacent having become used to competing without you in the race. Show them that you are back in the race.
Set up time with your manager to ask about what you need to catch up on any skills you need to build. It is likely that some things may have happened in the business while you were away that you need to know. It is easy for people to forget you were not there.
You are getting started once again after a gap. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time of a few months to find your old pace.
(Abhijit Bhaduri is a digital transformation coach who advises organisations on the Future of Works)
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