When you think about being away from your workplace for an extended period of time, what runs through your mind? Excitement at the thought of “getting away” for a while? Dread at the thought of how much “back up” you’d have to deal with upon your return to the office? Panic at the thought of everything you’d have to cross off of a massive to-do list before you could bid adieu to your co-workers?
It’s totally normal to feel every one of those emotions and, in my opinion, you should use all three of those feelings as fuel for the fire that is preparing you to go out on extended leave from your job. Make some lemonade out of those lemons, you know?
In my case, I spent the last few weeks preparing to go out on maternity leave for the birth of my first child. As 4word’s content manager, the thought of stepping away from my desk for a few weeks was definitely a daunting idea, but one that I met with a head-on plan. Was I excited for the arrival of my little guy? Absolutely. Was I dreading the thought of diving back into my responsibilities after time away and a big life change? Definitely. Did I have moments of panic as I took in the seemingly endless list of tasks I needed to cross out before my departure? Undoubtedly.
Instead of spending the weeks prior to my maternity leave in a frenzied state of constant panic and stress, I decided to step back and formulate a battle plan. I’ve taken vacation breaks from my job in the past with little to no angst because I was able to work ahead and square away the majority of my responsibilities. Why couldn’t this extended leave be the same way, just on a bigger scale?
If you’re looking at an upcoming extended leave from your job, whether for health, family, or other reasons, here are some tips I can offer to help prepare you for the smoothest departure and return.
Sure, you know what you do every day at your job. For most of us, our daily and weekly job responsibilities are as natural and automatic as breathing. Now imagine someone else needing to step into your shoes temporarily. Is it as easy to tutor them in your job as you thought? Chances are probably not.
Give yourself time to sit down and make a thorough list of every single task and function you have a hand in with your company. In my case, I was surprised at how many tasks showed up on my list that I had “forgotten” about, merely because I did them so routinely. Had I just quickly rushed through a walk-through of my main tasks with the individuals graciously helping me out during my leave, I would have no doubt been getting urgent emails and texts from (rightfully so) panicked co-workers trying to tie up suddenly loose ends.
Make a list and make it thorough. It might be an annoyance at first, but it will make life so much easier for you and your co-workers when you’re out.
Make your master plan (and a few alternates).
Once you have your responsibilities nailed down, figure out how they will be tended to during your absence. Is there anything you can prepare prior to leaving? Are there tasks that simply have to be done in real-time, therefore requiring tasking and training a co-worker to step in?
Personally, I hate adding stress to someone else’s plate, especially if I can avoid having to do it. Thankfully, my position with 4word allows me to work ahead and handle many of my weekly responsibilities prior to taking leave from work. This means the rest of the 4word team members have very little, if any, “leftovers” to add to their weekly lists while I’m gone. It gives me a sense of relief knowing I’ve done my job and saved everyone a lot of unnecessary stress.
Since we don’t live in a perfect world, though, there will definitely be times where all your plans will fly out the window in an instant. Maybe your baby decides to come two weeks early, maybe you get seriously ill on your vacation and are delayed another week in returning, or maybe the relative you were taking care of unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. In those moments, having a back up plan is crucial.
Some ways to “prepare for the worst” include:
- Create detailed procedure documents/videos outlining the exact steps for your tasks.
- Designate and train one or more (if possible) of your co-workers to step in if they are needed.
- Have an open line of communication to your manager or boss and inform them of any updates on your unexpected departure or delayed return.
Return before you leave.
While it’s important to focus on everything that needs to happen prior to your leave, you should also pay attention to paving the way for a smooth re-entry to your job after being away. If you know exactly how long you will be gone, schedule time during the first couple of days back to reacquaint yourself with everything. It’s amazing how foreign “regular routines” feel after being away from them for even just a few days.
Even before you leave, set up calls or meetings with your co-workers for when you anticipate returning to get updates on what happened while you were out and what priorities you’re coming back into. Establish hand-off times with anyone taking over your responsibilities, so you don’t have tasks falling through the cracks during your transition back into the flow of things.
I knew I wanted to give myself a bit of a buffer after my maternity leave (especially since I worked until the day I went into labor and didn’t have a set “departure date”), so I scheduled as many things as I could a week or so beyond the “latest” I thought I would return. Doing this allowed me the option to ease back into my workflow without the immediate return of every single responsibility, yet everything continued to run smoothly.
Stepping away from your work is never an easy feat. Your career is your legacy, in a way, and the last thing you want to do is tarnish all the hard work and progress you’ve made in your professional journey. While you won’t always have the luxury of fully preparing yourself and your team for an extended absence, you can find a way to make it work. It might not play out exactly as you planned, or everything may fall exactly into place. Just put in the work to set yourself up for success, and then trust that you’ve done all you could.