‘Maternity Leave, Carers Leave, Career Breaks… But how will leaving work affect your career?
‘Most of us will need to take an extended period of leave from work at some stage in our careers. In fact, it is to be expected, and companies should support employees through major life events such as having a baby, caring for a family member, or taking time out to pursue other priorities. These life events make us who we are. However, whilst many companies officially ‘allow’ you to take extended leave, the way your colleagues and managers respond to it could have a negative impact on your career. So how could you minimise the impact of a long period away from work?
Consider first that any length of time spent away from the office will affect your skills, knowledge and experience It will change your relationships and networks (people move on and form other connections), your image and possibly your confidence. You have probably spent years building these things up, so it’s crucial you take steps to protect them.
Take a little time before you leave to plan how you will protect the relationships you have possibly spent years building. Start by writing a list of all those people you need around you to help you excel in your job (this could be your manager, colleagues, clients or suppliers). Then make sure you have taken time out to explain when you are leaving, and your detailed plans for handover, so everyone knows who to go to for the service and information you have been providing them with. Reassurance is the key! Think about keeping in touch while you are away. Those returning from maternity leave are officially entitled to take up to 10 ‘Keeping in
Touch’ days. This is a great way to reconnect with work when you are close to returning and to get yourself back up to speed with what’s changed since you’ve been away. Never underestimate the power of office gossip from your closer colleagues – it will help you rebuild the social connection you may have lost since you have been away.
Ask for weekly or monthly update emails to be sent to your home email. It’s up to you whether or not you read them, but it’s good to show that you are still interested in work.
A friend of mine recently returned to work after 10 months of maternity leave. ‘What shall I wear? What’s changed? Will I be accepted back into the team? Will I get there in time now I have to drop my baby at the nursery?’
These were just some of the questions she had about her return. Most people go through a temporary loss of confidence during their first few weeks of return. Having spent several months immersed in the world of ‘mummy’ or ‘carer’ or any other role that is different to your old work role will mean quite an image change.
Prepare thoroughly before your first day. Sort out your outfits, child or eldercare. If you’ve kept in contact, you will find the return so much easier, as a lot of the ‘unknowns’ will not be worrying you anymore. Have a meeting with your manager on your first day back, with a list of questions. What changes have there been? Are there any new people on the team?
What skills do I need to catch up on? Can I set some basic objectives for the first weeks back?
Can we meet again soon for a review?
Finally, consider this – what you can’t necessarily give in terms of up to date knowledge and skills in those early days, you can give a sense of commitment, enthusiasm and determination.
Even if you are not yet feeling it inside, having an ‘it’s great to be back’ attitude will work wonders!