There are a multitude of reasons that people go on extended leaves of absence: family leave to take care of a loved one, parental leave, medical leave for yourself, the vacation of a lifetime, or even jury duty, if the case is a headline-maker!
Personally, my reason was that my husband and I were welcoming our first child into the world. I wanted to take a full three month leave in order to take care of and bond with my newborn baby. I knew those first months would a precious time and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it!
Whatever your reason is, it’s important to plan for this extended time away from your job.
There should be three stages to the plan. The time before you leave, the time you are actually away, and the transition back to work.
Before You Leave
First, and this probably goes without saying, it’s important to tell your supervisor and colleagues about your leave. Then, assure them that you’re working on a plan to help during your absence. Besides immediate family, my manager was the first person to know of my pregnancy. I wanted to give her ample time to start brainstorming and strategizing alongside me on how to cover my absence.
One way to create a “while I’m gone” plan is to assess your current day-to-day activities and think of the ways both tangible and intangible that your job manifests. What reports do you pull together? Who reports to you and what will they need in your absence? Who relies on you maybe for brainstorming sessions or out-of-the-box problem solving? If you are client-facing, your client may need to be added to the mix as well.
My manager and I had biweekly meetings for a few months in which we discussed my daily activities and routines. That gave her a good feel for who on the team could take on different parts of my job.
This is a great time to ask people what they most need from you on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Be sure to take lots of detailed notes that you can leave behind to aid whoever is covering in your absence.
On the personal front, remember that there will probably be financial implications. For more about that, check out this article from USA Today.
While You are Gone
Now that you’ve figured out all the tasks, duties and relationships, it’s time to tackle the “who” and “how” of your plan, and write it down.
Working with your team, start with the essentials and drill down to the “this could probably be back-burnered.” Be open to people taking on work, but handling the work in a way that works for them; flexibility is key. Also, make time to educate or train the people who be covering for you. If you’re the only one that knows how to put together the monthly presentation for a particular team, share the knowledge.
Once I made my pregnancy public, I was able to keep my teammates apprised of situations that arose and let them know how I was handling them so they could take over seamlessly once I was on leave. I also tried to get any knowledge that I had learned firsthand, but had never recorded, into a OneNote document, so my entire team would have access to it. I tried to make sure each of my teammates who were taking over parts of my job were well-versed in what needed to get done and by when, but left the “how” up to them.
Again, your supervisor and your team are key to actually making your plan work, so get their buy-in. Remind them that it’s better to plan ahead than to wind up in crisis-management mode.
Transitioning Back to Work
The last part of your plan should absolutely cover “when” and “how” you will transition back to work. If there’s a definite date that you’re walking back into the office then remember that you’ll need time to catch up on what happened in your absence.
If the leave is medical or maternal/paternal in nature, there may be a period of time where you work part time, or remotely.
But if you’re not sure when you’ll return, you can at least set up a communication plan where you check in with your boss, or Human Resources, to let them know where you stand. At a minimum, most companies will need a few days to get ready for your return.
Life can take unexpected turns and dish out awesome opportunities. If one of those means you need to take a leave of absence, just make sure you put a plan in place so you can be gone from, and can come back to, work–without worry.