Step-by-Step Leave Transition Guide for Planning a Leave of Absence

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Going on leave requires a fair amount of preparation. When you know you’re going on a maternity or paternity break, chances are you have a lot of prior notice. But there’s no need to re-invent the preparation process from scratch.

I worked with my professional coach Sharon Weinberg on my maternity leave transition, and thought I’d share the guide she and I put together to support others who also will be having a leave. The guide was written for leaves of one month or more, although elements of the approach can easily be used effectively for shorter absences. The guide will work for someone in a management position who has direct reports, and it can also be applied to an individual contributor delegating laterally to other team members.

This preparation has enabled me to create the necessary clarity, accountability, and continued execution to strategy by my team during my absence and set them up for success. Paramount in my thinking and the approach I’ve created and used is to

(1) minimize potential disruptions to operations due to confusion of ownership, partnership, and expected action,

(2) minimize the impact on my boss, team, and partnering departments, and

(3) create stretch leadership opportunities for my team members.

Key to my success in implementing this approach was starting early. I’d recommend that for those with planned leaves of three weeks or more, that they begin putting in place these or similar actions one month before their leave date. In this way, the necessary clarity, accountabilities, and integration can be done in a thoughtful way with sufficient time for those taking over to feel ready and secure in the expectations made of them and the actions they will take.

 

Leave Transition Guide 

The purpose of this guide is to lead an employee through the preparation required for an upcoming leave of absence. The outcome of good transition planning is to ensure that you, those whom you are delegating, and your key business partners (individuals, departments, vendors, customers) are clear in the actions they must take, and feel confident and empowered to do so during your absence. 

Goals

  1. Ensure you have fulfilled your professional responsibilities in handing over critical information to your colleagues, direct reports and boss
  2. Ensure you have enabled your colleagues, direct reports and boss to be successful while you are out 
  3. Ensure you have created the necessary clarity of expectations and actions for the people covering for you so that strategic and operational efforts are not disrupted

When to begin 

Start your planning process as soon as you know you’ll be going on a leave of absence. The process outlined in this guide can take weeks to complete in a thorough manner. Ideally, allocate time in your schedule each week at least a month before your leave to devote to the necessary planning, coordination, and communication to ensure that the people you are delegating to are clear, confident, and empowered to take action on day one of your absence. 

If you don’t have a lot of planning time because your impending absence wasn’t anticipated, identify the most important efforts/workstreams/initiatives that must be covered to minimize disruption of progress or unintended consequences. Your goal is to make those you are delegating to feel adequately prepared to take the reins in your absence. 

Identify major projects and workstreams

Document what is currently in-flight and due to begin while you are on leave. 

  • Project Title
  • Project Goals 
  • Project timelines; important dates 
  • Link to project plans, overview documents 
  • Link to any relevant resources (e.g. JIRA tickets or internal wiki pages)
  • Dependencies on other teams 

Start in a google spreadsheet or a shared document of some kind. 

Identify owners for each major item 

Work with your team and colleagues to identify who will be the owner as well as the BACKUP owner for each project. 

Update the new owners in the spreadsheet next to each project title.

Owners sign off on their leadership for each item 

Email the updated list to your team and other stakeholders taking over the projects. Here’s an example of what this email can look like: 

Here is my thinking about how my responsibilities will be covered by the team during my maternity leave. I’ve taken the time and thought about it, and recognize this is a partnership. 

Please review this. There are four areas I want you to focus on:

    1. What are you comfortable taking on
    2. What are you not comfortable taking on and why
    3. What needs additional clarification  
    4. Your plan for who covers for you on each project in instances when you are out for PTO etc.

The project list is here: 

LINK TO SHARED SPREADSHEET

If you are expected to take over one of these projects as the new project lead, your name will show up in column ‘X’. 

Please write back to me to let me know your answers to 1-4, and let me know if you need to discuss any items during our upcoming 1:1s. Once we’re all final, we will be publishing a version of ‘who owns what’, and that list will be shared with internal stakeholders so there is no question about ownership while I’m out.

In addition, PERSON will be on point as the team lead while I’m out. That means, for new issues that come up, they will work with everyone on re-prioritizing and project ownership/distribution as needed. 

I am confident that we’re in a strong position, and that everyone here is capable and well-positioned to succeed. Thank you for being the amazing team that you are. I’m looking forward to heading out with a solid plan in place, knowing that we are clear, our stakeholders are clear, and that you are confident in roles and protocols during my absence.  

We can discuss all of this during upcoming 1:1s and team meetings as needed.

Communicate your plan broadly 

Once the new project leads have signed off on their ownership, publish the list on a shared wiki or share the spreadsheet itself with all internal teams impacted by the projects. Here’s what that email could look like: 

Hi teams,

Here is my schedule for the coming weeks through my leave:

January 7th – 18th:  Working from home (occasionally will be in the office as needed – plan to be in office Tues-Wed this week) 

January 21st – May 14th: Maternity leave  

If there’s anything you need from me before I head out, please let me know sooner rather than later. These dates are not 100% in my control. 🙂

Here is who will be owning each major initiative for TEAM NAME: 

LINK TO PROJECT OVERVIEW WITH OWNERS

Please bookmark this page and go directly to the project owner(s) when you need to collaborate.

PERSON NAME (PERSON EMAIL) will be handling ad hoc requests coming into TEAM NAME while I’m out. Please sync with them and they can work with you if priorities need to shift. 

Go on your leave confident and relaxed!

Know that you aren’t going to have any nagging thoughts about things that went unanswered or unowned. You’ve put in the hard work to prepare for your absence. Your colleagues will appreciate the effort. Your future self will be thanking you because you won’t have to look back and wonder.

 

Listen to Sarah Trott on the Fourth Trimester Podcast Episode 79. Click here for iTunes and click here for Google Podcasts. Enjoy! xo