Focus: Easing back into the dental team

The challenges of returning to work can be just as challenging as being away, not only for the individual, but the management and colleagues who have to help with the transition.

During life, there are so many reasons why we might be absent from work for an extended period.

Sickness, pregnancy, caring for a sick family member, a sabbatical for travel or returning to education are all valid reasons for extended absence from the workplace. Maybe this subject is poignant for me after a recent maternity leave and, eight years ago, a sudden exit from my job after an injury resulting in a three-month absence.

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I have to say, while both reasons are so different, some of the emotions involved were very similar for me. Anxiety, fear, low confidence and just a general feeling of ‘being left behind’ all came along at some time or another.

Now, I am an individual who can fall off the horse, dust myself down, box my demons and get right back in the saddle; however, I am not everyone and the feeling of stress, anxiety, low confidence and doubt can escalate.

Leading to under performance, conflict, misunderstanding and ultimately resignation. Research by the National Childbirth Trust has found many new mums struggle to fit back into work after their maternity leave.

The study found that an astonishing 30,000 women a year leave their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination, and one in three mums said employers weren’t supportive when they returned to work.

So, how do we best manage long-term absence, keep harmony in the workplace and further develop? Firstly whether employer or employee, know and understand your role and responsibility.

What is an individual entitled to, what should we provide during the absence period and afterwards. Could our understanding and delivery of appropriate policies and handbooks provide clarity and guidance as well as a practice manager equipped to support an individual back in to their role.

Whatever the reason for absence it is certain to be a life-changing event. One-to-one return-to-work meetings will give both manager and employee time to reassess objectives for their future role. In some cases, a person can return to their full-time position; however this is not always possible.

How does a team remain cohesive when a colleague’s role changes?

There is a danger that a part-time team member can miss out on the day-to-day running of a practice, it is so simple to miss an important conversation about lab work or appointment scheduling leading to misunderstanding and underperformance.

Perhaps initiate a buddy system to keep the team member up to date with all policies and plans on a daily basis, along with minuted team meeting so everyone can see.

To avoid, under performance, misunderstanding and isolation, the best performing teams provide well-formulated manuals and handbooks and develop their one to one coaching skills to provide a learning pathway.

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