In my career guide this Sunday, I addressed the following:
HOW DO I STAY ON THE RADAR DURING MATERNITY LEAVE?
This advice applies to maternity and paternity time, as well as sick leave: Tend to your health and family first. Better to drop off the radar for a bit than to neglect the reason that you took the leave in the first place. If that's under control, keep in touch with co-workers electronically. Set up a Google alert for your company, your boss's name, and any other relevant terms so that you'll be kept in the loop automatically. If you come across a study or news story that applies to your job, don't hesitate to send it along to your colleagues--it shows you're staying abreast of your industry.
What about when you come back? Some advice that didn't make the cut:
When you return to the office from a personal leave, prepare a reintegration story--something that connects your private self to your work self and re-establishes your office cred. What have you learned during your time off? What strengths did you develop? How did the challenges, frustrations, satisfactions of your leave time compare to your job? This doesn't have to be a grand manifesto. A simple "Let me handle the negotiations on the Macguffin account--after my barracuda of a physical therapist, lawyers don't scare me" can suffice.
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