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In an earlier blog post, I shared what I’ve learned about how to prepare for a sabbatical or an extended time off from work. This is a follow-up that will focus on an equally important part of any leave program: setting up your hopefully well-recharged self for a successful return.
My hope is that this blog post will serve as a helpful checklist for how to return to a team that’s likely been operating in new ways during your absence. Specifically, I’ll be focusing on the perspective of a returning leader of a team or function.
Getting back into your workflow
In some ways, the return can be more challenging than the preparation. You might think, what could possibly be difficult about returning to work after an extended vacation? Aren’t I coming back to a job I already know how to do?
Not necessarily. After having asked your coworkers to step up in your absence, you may be returning to a role that looks slightly different from the one you left. This is especially true if you took the necessary steps to prepare to be out, which means you deliberately gave away a good chunk of your work.
A few days before your first day back
Check in with your manager
Although at Greenhouse we never promote being online during your time off, one small exception might be to check in with your manager just before your return. The Friday before my first Monday back online, I had a quick touch-base which was beneficial for a few reasons:
- Looking back. We were able to catch up on notable events that had taken place in my absence so not everything would be a surprise to me on Monday.
- Looking forward. My manager also shared their perspective on what I should focus on in the first few weeks. This was particularly helpful in my case, as my team had planned an offsite that was just around the corner and I had time-sensitive deliverables for it.
- This chat helped me feel more grounded before the Monday rush of meetings and emails. While some folks prefer not to dial into work conversations until their official first day back, getting a head start works for me. I consider it a form of self-care in that I wasn’t operating in an overwhelmed state on a Monday.
As part of our company best practice, I also sent an email to our People Business Partner team so that they were aware from a business planning perspective that I was planning to return on the date discussed.
Know it’s OK if you’re a bit nervous
In getting highlights from my manager on how well my team had operated without me, there was a moment of wondering whether I was still needed. Many say that the best managers automate themselves out of their jobs and I couldn’t help but think, Would I still be valuable to the business? Would I still have work that engaged and excited me?
The short answer is yes! Even if you’re no longer doing exactly what you used to, it doesn’t mean there aren’t new things for you to do. In fact, in any growing business, leaders are often tasked with evolving their roles in pace with how the company is changing – operationally, financially and culturally. That’s hard to do, because it means committing to constant change. The question isn’t whether there will be work for you. There will always be more work than there are hours in a day. What’s more critical is determining which select initiatives you’ll focus on to deliver the most value to the business.
So, there might be a moment of re-orientation as you realize the best way to plug back in isn’t always clear. You might not feel immediately productive because you need to find the next impactful problem to solve at the appropriate altitude. Know that this is normal – and remember to give yourself some space and grace.
Let people outside of work know that you’re plugging back in
Another takeaway for me was to be mindful of those in close proximity to my life as I plugged back into work. If you live with a roommate or a loved one who got used to your increased level of availability during your sabbatical, it’s important to set expectations with them on how that will change.
There was an adjustment period for me and my spouse. To best set expectations, we discussed what to expect from each other once I was back at workMonday to Friday and unavailable most of the day. That meant more planning around the times we were both available and clearer division of life chores. Talking this through helped us be more flexible and aligned with each other as life happened around our work lives and vice versa.
Tune in to the next blog, where I’ll share how you can get back into the swing of things during your first few weeks back.
Learn more about how Greenhouse approaches work-life balance and putting people first in our blog post, What’s next – the rise of the people-first company.