I am a full-time working mom of 4 kids… Yep, I said 4, and they are all 6 and younger. As a working mom of 4, I learn something new every day. It’s one of the perks. And knowing that I intended to keep working full time after each child, I prioritized an extended maternity leave with each of them. I knew that for the rest of their young lives I would miss certain things. I might miss the first crawl, the first step, the first word, because often these first occur at daycare. So, I chose to take 4 months off work with each of them so that I could soak up as much of their infancy stage as possible.
Fortunately, I work for a company that not only granted me that opportunity, but also values my desire to do so. I am a director level employee, and typically a company is not too excited to lose a person at that level, or any level for that matter, for 4 months of the year. But at Inspirien, everyone is empowered and encouraged to do things that are good for the company and for the individual. The return to work after an extended leave has taught me some highly valuable lessons that I believe can and should challenge traditional thinking.
When you’re gone for a week or two on vacation, doesn’t it typically feel like many problems just stack up and wait for your return? I have heard from many coworkers how painful it can be coming back from vacation because it is so hard to get caught up. I have even heard people say taking vacation is “just not worth it.” But when you take an extended leave, suddenly people around you realize they have to solve problems without you. People’s reliance on you diminishes and they realize they must figure out a way forward on their own. It challenges your direct reports, your colleagues, and your supervisors, pushing them out of their comfort zone and into a brand-new level of independence. As a leader, it takes courage to give your coworkers that opportunity, and taking extended leave encourages you to trust your coworkers to get things done without you.
Zig Ziglar, one of the world’s greatest motivators, used to say, “Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation?” We often work extra hard before a few days off to make sure that we are able to unplug while we are away. But knowing that you are about to be out for an extended period, more than just a week or two, your shift focuses from being a doer to being a coach. You don’t just try to accomplish as many tasks as possible. You begin to really focus on coaching and training others to be able to do those things, empowering them, growing them, and creating opportunity for them. You also communicate better. Rather than doing your work in a silo as quickly as possible, you collaborate with others to ensure those tasks get completed.
Of course, while you are gone not all problems get solved. The big ones often do remain and float to the top. What does that do for you? It vastly improves your focus and accountability when you return. Suddenly your mind and your to do list are not clogged and cluttered. As you are getting plugged back in, it’s those big problems that surfaced and remained unsolved that are waiting for your attention, and you can quickly and easily prioritize them. You also have a fresh set of eyes but still have all the experience and knowledge of the company that you had before, so you are even better equipped to solve these problems efficiently and effectively.
It is never easy to lose our valuable employees for an extended period of time. But, as John Maxwell says, “Everything worthwhile is uphill.” At Inspirien, we believe we can gain the most from pushing ourselves to do the hard stuff. We also believe there is great benefit to the company by allowing and encouraging leave for all employees. Our policies demonstrate this, as we offer excellent parental leave benefits and paid annual leave. We are also considering many other benefits that focus on maintaining a healthy work-life balance for our employees. What are you doing in your organization? We’d love to hear!
Article contributed by Tiffany Taylor, Director of Finance for Inspirien.