How to Deal with the Anxiety of Returning to Work (after a Parental Leave).
By Joe Issid
I age myself considerably when I mention that email was not widely used when I first joined the workforce. Needless to say, we were years away from the ubiquity of smart phones and VPNs. As such, the concept of working remotely back in the day was not widely adopted. If I wanted to put in some extra hours, I needed to haul myself into the office. On the flip side, taking time off work back then was exactly that: a total disconnect from the goings-on at the office. Clearly, times have changed as many of us are able to perform our jobs from any corner of the earth. And with this increased access has come decreased time away from the cubicle. Case in point, I regularly check-in on work while I am on vacation as it is easy, convenient and allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening at the office. And I am certainly not the only person who does this.
With that said, I recently took a few weeks of paternity leave and, for the first time in a decade, chose to fully disconnect from the office. And let me tell you, the prospect of returning to work was far worse than anything I have previously experienced. Here is how I was able to manage my anxiety surrounding my return to work.
I manage a small team that controls a very large portfolio within our organization. As such, there is a great deal of pressure and responsibility that comes with leading a strategically important unit. Historically, I have always been fully reachable when on vacation as I don't want to leave my team short-handed. However, this time, I made it extremely clear that I would be severing the chord, so to speak, and would be completely unreachable. After some initial skepticism, they all accepted that I would be unresponsive during my absence. While I felt extremely guilty doing so, it was very important for my family to get my undivided attention for a few weeks. So, the first step to taking a true break is to communicate this intention to your team and to...
...stick to it
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a very real phenomenon so rest assured that it is perfectly normal to feel this way when you are out of the office for more than a few days. Truth be told, I thought I would cheat and secretly check my email from time to time. But that temptation diminished fairly quickly and I was able to retreat into being a dad without the stress of work hanging over me. Yes, the thought of work crossed my mind fairly often but it was easy to distract myself. Within two weeks, the spectre of work was gone. It may sound crazy to some, but I had to force myself to not work and dispel the feeling that I was somehow missing out on many important things.
Plan your return
If, like me, you haven't fully disconnected from work in a long time, you are going to experience something strange upon your return: rust. Much like an athlete returning to the game after a long break, it will certainly take some time to dust off the cobwebs. So, the best thing you can do is to prepare for this before you leave. There will certainly be a temptation to simply drop everything and head for the door on your last day but do your best to resist this and take the time to plan your return carefully. Document everything you are working on and schedule some quick updates as soon as you are back. You'll be amazed at how much you can forget when you are away so prepare for this ahead of time.
Beat the blues
A recent Monster poll revealed that 54% of Canadians experience a phenomenon known as Sunday Night Blues or, in other words, a feeling of dread and anxiety towards the upcoming work week. If you suffer from this, you can only imagine how much worse it is if you have been away from the office for weeks or months. In my experience, the best cure for this has, ironically, been to put in a few hours of work as it allows you to organize yourself for the upcoming week. But, if you've been gone for a while, a couple of hours of light emailing probably won't be enough to make you feel caught up. In this situation, you have two choices: login to work a few days before your return and begin ramping up.
Or you can do what I did: take your kid to the park and worry about work when you are actually being paid to worry about it.