Taking Time Off from Work

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Posted by Sarah Baicker on June 16, 2011
Taking Time Off from Work

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a woman can take up to 12 weeks of maternity leave without the risk of losing her job. However, FMLA does not require employers to continue to pay salary during this time. It's important for parents-to-be to ask about their companies' maternity leave policies in order to plan for childcare needs and determine how much time can be taken off, financially speaking, when starting a family.

Of course, plenty of men and women step out of the workforce for reasons other than having children. People take time off from their jobs for everything from caring for elders to pursuing hobbies that would be impossible to explore while in a full-time position.

No matter your precise reason for taking a career hiatus, it's not a decision to be made hastily. As shown in the results of WhartonCenter study Back in the Game: Returning to Business After a Hiatus, women considering taking an extended leave from work must carefully plan for their eventual career reentry both before the hiatus and during it. Many women returning to work face a difficult, if not downright depressing experience, according to the WhartonCenter's study, which reported that 43 percent of respondents ended up taking a longer hiatus than they'd originally planned, frequently because of the sheer difficulty of getting rehired.

Despite the inevitable challenges of career reentry, there are ways to make the most of your leave that can help simplify the transition back into the workplace, whether it's three months-or 18 years-away.

No matter how long you plan to step away from your career, it's important to remain reasonably up-to-date on the latest developments in your field. Subscribing to industry publications and e-newsletters will help you keep track of the players and trends, keeping you connected to your professional life with minimal effort-simply replace or complement your leisure reading.    

One of the best things to do while on a career break is stay in touch with colleagues. That doesn't have to mean constant phone conferences or email exchanges-it can be as simple as having a regular lunch date with them once a month or so. Maintaining connections with business partners will help keep you informed on developments both in your workplace and the industry at large, which ultimately makes returning to the workplace that much easier.

"You don't have to go the total 'mommy route' while on leave and only talk to other moms in the park," says Tory Johnson, founder and CEO of Women for Hire, a women's recruiting firm. "You can and should continue to talk to other people in your field."

Women often have more success returning to the workforce when they've spent part of their time off building marketable skills. One way to keep sharp is through volunteer work. Volunteer positions often have paid equivalents-actual jobs with similar responsibilities, according to Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work. Although a position with, say, your child's PTA isn't salaried, it likely requires skills that are transferable to an actual business career. The experiences gained through such volunteer work should be listed on your resume, expressed in professional terms.

Beware of the hidden perils of becoming a stay-at-home parent, warns Anne Weisberg, senior advisor to Deloitte's Women's Initiative and co-author of the book Mass Career Customization. Weisberg says many couples she's talked to split their household chores 50/50-until they have children and the wife opts to stay home.

"It happens very subtly," Weisberg says, "but I've seen it happen over and over and over again: because the wife's on maternity leave, she's the one cooking dinner, doing the grocery shopping, picking up the laundry." When you go back to work, the old patterns don't come back naturally: In a Center for Work-Life Policy study from 2001, 40 percent of women with spouses reported that their husbands created more work around the house than they performed.

Increased responsibilities at home can make career reentry that much more difficult. To avoid falling into the trap, Weisberg advises keeping domestic responsibilities as much like they were before you took time off as possible and to be clear with your spouse that being at home doesn't mean you're on vacation.

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