Employee: I am requesting a leave of three months.
Employer: Oh, really? A maternity leave?
Employee: No, I was chosen to participate in a reality show. I’ll be back.
Of the numerous reasons to take an extended leave from your job—childbirth or adoption, elder care, or a sabbatical—the best I’ve heard was from a friend who left work temporarily for a spot on a reality TV show.
But whether for a newborn or a new adventure, your career as a professional is reflected in the planning you provide during times of transition.
As a professional, you want to make the transition easy on your employer, coworkers, and clients. You want it to be smooth for the people filling in, and, likewise, easy on your return. Whether you’re being replaced by a temp, a new hire, or your colleagues are filling in, here are some helpful tips for taking time off responsibly.
Make it Easy For Everyone While You’re Out
What do you do anyway? Make a detailed list. Start with your original job description. But then, describe the additional duties that may have evolved. Provide helpful tips you may have developed along the way.
Offer to help: Offer to participate in finding your replacement. At larger companies, this may be the role of the HR department. But it never hurts to offer to screen resumes or participate in candidate interviews.
Project management: Clearly define deadlines and schedules for projects in process. Consider creating a timeline for the entire length of your leave.
Keep people informed: Inform your contacts well in advance about the dates that you’ll be leaving and returning. Also introduce them to the person or people filing in for you. Face-to-face meetings with important clients or vendors may be important to instill confidence with your replacement.
Provide resources: Offer places to turn for help. Suggest co-workers who can answer questions in your place, manuals for complicated software, or help lines for tech support. If you will be available on a limited basis let people know when—and when not—to reach you.
Bumps in the road: Anticipate problems ahead of time. Think about the kinks you usually have to work out and prepare others for the best way to handle them.
Voicemail: Set up away messages before you go. Make it clear on voicemail and email that you are away for an extended period of time. Perhaps forward your inboxes to others to make sure inquiries don’t go unanswered. (But double-check with the other party first!)
Be realistic: Don’t start new projects right before you leave. Stay involved, but let others take the lead on work that will be due while you’re gone.
Be realistic, part 2: Decide ahead of time how available you want to make yourself. Checking email once a week may help you feel connected. Allowing others to call you any time might sound helpful, but a dozen urgent calls each day could make you feel like you’re still in the office. Consider designating a set time to touch base.
Before You Go:
- Save all emails and correspondence with superiors that discuss your leave. This could come in handy if there are questions later on.
- Sign a written agreement with your HR department or boss that states when you are expected to return and what your salary will be while gone.
- Make sure that you are clear about how your time away will be charged: vacation, sick, or personal days, or other HR policies that address leave specifically.
- Check with your medical and life insurance companies to ensure that your benefits will continue during your leave.
- Review state and federal laws to see how much time or salary you’re legally entitled to receive. Information is available for the Family Medical Leave Act and disability laws.
- If you are concerned about how your HR policy is being applied, consider contacting an attorney who understands employment law. Be ready to provide a copy of your company’s employee handbook.
When You Return:
- You may not have the luxury to return part time, but you can inquire. A gradual return of two or three days per week for a short time may help you and your organization as you get back into the swing of things.
- If you return full time, consider coming into the office a day before you actually start. Emptying that crammed inbox could easily take you a full workday, and it’s easier to start back with a clean slate.
- Get back in touch. Let your contacts and colleagues in other locations know that you’re back in action. Consider personal calls rather than email to catch up and get reacquainted.
- Set up a debriefing. Have face-to-face meetings with your boss, coworkers, and the people who covered for you to hear what you missed and the status of current projects.