Returning After a Leave
So you took some time off from work. People do it all the time, right? Sure, but you've been gone for several weeks on an extended leave. You had legitimate reasons for taking the time, but you're worried about how the absence will affect your career. Here's how to make sure that it doesn't -- at least not adversely.
Stay in Touch
A successful return depends largely on how you conduct yourself during your time away. Keep your skills current by picking up an occasional freelance project and staying in touch with coworkers. Join a professional organization, or get together casually with colleagues. "You can maintain a network in a very nonthreatening way," says Kathy McDonald, a career consultant and coauthor of Creating Your Life Collage: Strategies for Solving the Work/Life Dilemma. She left the corporate rat race to reevaluate her career goals and then never went back. "I am in a book club with a lot of my former corporate colleagues," she reports. "In between discussions about the book and a light dinner, I get to hear about what's going on in the company."
Clear the Air
Whether you took time off to have a baby, care for a sick relative or rejuvenate, chances are your personal situation has changed. You may no longer want -- or be able -- to work 12-hour days. Don't be afraid to tell your boss that. But choose your words carefully. "You never say to a boss, 'my first priority now is my children,'" says DeAnne Rosenberg, a career consultant in Wareham, Massachusetts, and author of A Manager's Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job. "That's like waving a red flag in front of the bull. Even though your priorities have changed, don't share that with the folks at work."
Let's say a meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Tell your boss that you'd like to stay, but that "prior commitments" make that impossible. Offer to prepare materials ahead of time or conference into the meeting from home.
Deliver the Goods
The best way to keep your boss happy is to produce and to make sure he knows that you do. Prepare a weekly project status report. List your projects, along with their status and the next steps planned. "You start moving the paradigm to measuring the work you deliver, not the hours you put in," says McDonald. "Your work can get lost among everyone else's work. A tangible, one-page summary is a quick snapshot that shows you are delivering the goods."
Don't jump right back into the fire. That would, after all, defeat much of the purpose of taking a leave. Make sure that you're returning to work you enjoy. If not, consider changing jobs or changing careers. "Ideally, you want to find a company with values that align with yours," McDonald says. "The last thing you want to do is go back to a job that makes you as miserable as the one you left."
If your old company doesn't fit your new lifestyle, change it. And don't think it can't be done. Several of McDonald's clients have successfully negotiated job share, flextime and part-time arrangements. Worst-case scenario, your boss says no. Best case, the company agrees to your proposal -- and all because you had the guts to broach the subject.
Just don't get too comfortable in your newfound work arrangement. As with most things in life, you may have to make additional adjustments along the way. "When you solve the work-life dilemma, you don't just settle it once," McDonald explains. "It's really a journey. You will craft different solutions depending on the different life stage you're in."
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