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How to Prepare for a Leave of Absence

A pregnant woman cups her belly while she walks.

Are you itching to take an extended absence from work? Are you overwhelmed and attempting to beat your burnout? Are you preparing a nursery for your new precious arrival, or longing to visit a faraway land?

No matter the inspiration, in order to take a leave of absence to do any of the above (and ensure that you’ll be welcomed back to the working world with open arms), follow these tips to keep your career moving forward while you’re away.

Planning makes perfect

In this piece we’re going to focus on two of the types of leave for which you must plan:

  • New parent leave
  • Formal or extended leaves of absence

Your first step is to determine if a sabbatical is even possible.

New parent leave details are usually spelled out in your employee handbook. However, if they’re not, know that with smaller organizations (less than 20 employees), maternity leave is not a given. So when your family is expanding and you want to plan time off and also have an established reentry plan, be sure to:

  • Check the fine print at work and know your rights
  • Give your leadership team, supervisors, human resources department, and colleagues (who will likely be covering your work) plenty of notice
  • Work together with your supervisor to map out an agreement that will ensure that everyone’s needs are addressed

If an unpaid or extended leave of absence is what you’re hoping for, again, check the fine print. There may be a way to set this up, even if it’s never before been done at your organization. Read more about how to ask for a sabbatical here, and find some great tips for getting your boss on board and training your team to cover your work while you’re away.

But before you start setting up those meetings, take a look at your life and responsibilities. You want to be realistic about whether you can afford time away from work. While you’re planning what your leave will look like, be sure to plan your leave on the home front as well. Address the following items before making a firm decision on whether you can swing it:

  • Finances: Before you make this leap into the unknown, understand you may be living for weeks or months with no benefits and no paycheck. You should save enough money to pay all your expenses for the allotted time you’ll be on break, and also save for potential unforeseen expenses such as your car breaking down, medical and dental issues, or complications with housing.
  • Home life: If you’re in a partnership at home and you’re now becoming a single-income family, work that out with your partner in great detail and be sure to address the fiscal and emotional implications of your decision. Is your partner okay with you traveling and taking a break from the grind while they assume responsibilities for two? And for how long? If you live alone, will you sublet your place? Can you get out of your lease? Think through these details carefully. In the long run, it’s better to overestimate the financial impact of your choices.
  • End date: I know it’s a bummer, but it’s wise to begin a leave of absence with at least a basic idea of when you’ll need to start work again. It’s very possible that this will be determined by your organization, or if that’s not a consideration, your budgeted savings will likely set your limits.

Plan to stay in touch

If you’re on a longer leave, keep in touch with your network back at the office. Send update emails or postcards to your boss here and there, and if you’re local, make room in your calendar for coffee with colleagues and contacts. When you’re ready to return to the workplace in a few months or years, you’ll be glad that you maintained these connections.

Keep your skills sharp

If your leave of absence spans longer than a few months, it’s a good idea to make sure your work skills stay fresh. Here’s how to stay in the game while you’re away from the office:

  • Find contract or freelance work if you can. If you’re hesitant because you’re actually trying to enjoy a break from work, remember, a side gig here and there won’t be the same as 40-hours-a-week. Also, these projects can help fill gaps in your resume and keep your skills fresh.
  • Volunteer in a related field or volunteer while you’re traveling abroad.
  • Network on your downtime. Attend work-related events or networking luncheons to expand or maintain your work relationships.
  • Stay in the game remotely by creating an online presence.
  • Monitor the market by staying on top of news and trade publications and remember to utilize the job alerts to see what’s happening in your field.

Remember, plan your finances and your time, keep in touch with important contacts, and try to do what you can to keep up your skills.

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About the Author | With a background in the performing arts and journalism, Caroline Rodriguez understands the chaotic course of career change. She’s been a reporter, teacher, and co-manager of a yoga resort. Her passions include women’s rights and encouraging girls to study science.

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