Since I started working after college, I've had three extended periods away from work. I took an eight-week maternity leave for the birth of each of my three kids. I loved maternity leave. Each time, it was both too short and too long but all good.
Planning before taking leave and then having a solid plan for reentering the workforce was critical to preserving my sanity and position at work while keeping all the boats afloat at home.
Traditional advice falls short of what you really need to effectively enter and exit the workforce. "Ease in" is the mantra of well-meaning grandmothers, mentors, and the occasional boss. Unfortunately, this notion that you can take anything slow in today's environment is doomed from the start. This idea plants you firmly in two worlds--and typically unable to be particularly successful in either.
The alternative is to plan your reentry carefully to reduce hassle, headaches, and disappointment during weeks back. Here are 7 strategies for developing a solid reentry plan:
- Pick a date. Having a specific date on the calendar is one less thing to debate and decide. You can change the date if conditions change but always have a date.
- Tell others of your return date. Share your return date with your boss, clients, and team--as appropriate. Communicating with coworkers and leaders helps set expectations and enables others to plan projects around your availability.
- Set aside the last two weeks of leave to tie up loose ends. This strategy is primarily important for those returning from a professional sabbatical. If you're returning from family leave, this time period is about making sure you have coverage for care and that all basic needs are addressed for the periods during the day that you'll be away. I did a couple of dry runs with daycare drop off and the commute to reduce some of the anxiety around basic logistics of getting everywhere where they need to be.
- Schedule a conversation with your boss before you return to work. Use this meeting to get the scoop on anything important that has happened in your absence and to understand anything new where your attention may be needed. Doing this before your first day back enables you to reflect on what's new and what has stayed the same. Armed with this insight, you can hit the ground running your first week.
- Take extra care of yourself. Before returning, take time to do one thing that reconnects you with you--a run or hike, a special spa treat, a visit with someone you don't get to see much. Then schedule another treat to mark the first couple of milestones- first week back, first month, first post-baby project successfully completed, etc.
- Consider setting up a series of three or more sessions with a counselor if you're wrestling with any aspects of your decision to return to work. Structured conversations with a professional can help get clarity with what you're doing and why. Resources designed for moms like the ones mentioned in Susan Adam's article here can help, as well.
- Plan to reintroduce yourself to your team. Such a process will take place over the first couple of weeks--and, of course, it's not a formal reintroduction. However, after an extended period away, you're a different person. Life has changed for various reasons and your perspective is different. Others' perspectives might have changed, too. Give each other time to adjust to the new and different you--and vice versa.
Transitions in and out of work can be some of the toughest life changes to navigate. But getting them right sets you up for long-term success. Having a plan helps you manage the rollercoaster of responsibilities and emotions you may face during that transition.