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Back to work: the challenges of reentering a position

1 July 2022
Moran Sinay
Baby feet

What happened…


I spent seven months on maternity leave. Two weeks before my estimated due date, I realized I must complete all projects and tasks I've been working on to leave my replacement with an "empty desktop." I trained the new worker in the best way possible, enabling her to perform my tasks while I was on leave.


Two weeks before I was set to return to work, I began to contemplate how will it feel to be back and whether I would be able to balance my work and home. In hindsight, I realized that I should have also considered how to return to work: what I would do during those first days back and whether there is a set process for optimally producing to work.


To my surprise, no such process existed. This made me realize that despite preparing all parties involved for my maternity leave, including training my replacement and completing all open projects and tasks, they hadn't considered my return to work and prepared an orderly procedure for such a process. Due to this lack of planning, I felt a sense of inefficiency during my first few days back at the workplace. I didn't have a clear, structured schedule to rely on. My return to work was awkward technically, emotionally, and professionally.


We know that every organization continuously accumulates knowledge over time. My seven months on maternity leave were indeed no exception.

New projects entered the schedule, adding new components to the system. The Digital department in which I work bases its work method on "knowledge bricks," which means that if I'm not caught up on what I missed, I will have a tough time trying to proceed and perform my job thoroughly. And since I didn't receive any relevant direction, I felt helpless and did not know how to begin collecting the knowledge and close the gap.


On my second day back, I discussed this issue with my direct manager, and she was as surprised as I was that no process exists in our company/division. I suggested they prepare a list of subjects/projects I missed. This would allow me to catch up on the knowledge amassed since I left. I also needed to refresh my memory by performing work I previously worked on to return to my once honed skills and abilities and ensure that my work processes are effective, efficient, and optimal as they were before I left.

The outcome…


Today, two months after returning, I can conclude that knowledge retention and organization are processes that contribute to new/returning and current workers. Knowledge retention helps us organize the knowledge, and organization enables continuity and constant improvement of workers' skills. Furthermore, managing the organization's knowledge allows workers to quickly search for and retrieve knowledge items and, in turn, increase performance potential, leading to enhanced efficiency and effectivity. I believe that every workplace must apply a "return to work" procedure. This document or file will contain all knowledge the organization accumulated during specified dates, allowing anyone to catch up on knowledge they missed and eventually close any gaps between them and their peers.


I prefer The Wiig Model for Building and Using Knowledge, which divides knowledge into three groups: public knowledge, shared experience, and personal knowledge. A worker returning from maternity leave should be viewed as entering a new position. Much has changed and been updated, upgraded, and replaced. Therefore, it is crucial to reorganize organizational knowledge for workers who have been absent from the workplace for extended periods. According to Wiig, personal knowledge is the hardest to control and organize as the worker holds it. It is therefore imperative to generate public knowledge which can serve as a toolkit that may benefit workers at all times.


An organization that knows how to manage its knowledge well will ensure its workers have a command of the knowledge and learn to convey it quickly and easily to both new and returning workers. This method will lead to expertise being internalized more quickly. This knowledge will allow us to create an efficient and intuitive work environment that benefits workers and employers.


Here are a few tips that can help workers going on leave:

Before leaving:

  1. Projects and tasks: make sure that your projects or tasks were completed or handled by someone else in your organization. It is crucial to ensure this to enable the department and organization to maintain performance during our leave.

  2. Technical issues: check with relevant personnel if any special maintenance is required for your specialized equipment such as computers and cellphones. For example, computers require an occasional shutdown, affecting their function if not performed correctly.

  3. Make your leave common knowledge: leave an automatic response in your email informing others of your vacation, its duration, who your replacement is, and how to contact them if necessary.

  4. Creating an estimated list for your return: you can make a list containing all the tasks you will need to attend to when you return. This list will help you return to work calmly and correctly.

Returning from leave:

  1. Preparing a list: prepare a list regarding new projects and subjects that began during your absence. This list will allow you to jump back into work correctly since you will not know what you must do to close the gap and get back on schedule.

  2. Schedule: create a plan for your first week back. This will help you calm down and thus perform optimally. A program allows us to concentrate, reduces anxiety, and mitigates the surprise element, allowing us to work pleasantly while aware of the tasks we must perform.

  3. Refresh your memory: in case of extended leave, reviewing projects or tasks you've previously worked on to refresh your memory is best. This activity helps us regain our 'rusty' skills and work as well as we used to.

  4. Returning from the maternity ward: You should speak with your direct manager approximately a week before returning to set a calm and correct return.


The Wiig Model for Building and Using Knowledge

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