How to come home without falling back

Time away from work affords both horizontal and vertical development. Guest contributor Lindsey Caplan helps us to preserve the most transformative effects of any leave.

According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 17% of employers offered unpaid or paid sabbaticals in 2017.

I am fortunate to work for one such employer, and used my eleven weeks away from the office to live across the country working on a non-fiction book.

A work friend called me recently to chat about my return to the office. “So, do you feel recharged and ready to fall back in?” she asked. “Or, did it shift your perspective and help you view things differently?”

Her question gave me pause.

To assume the former from our employees is to take a narrow view of how we actually change and grow. Growth is rarely binary or linear, and employees aren’t devices. Time spent away from our normal routines can recharge us. Eventually, though, the battery will lose charge again — and again.

“It’s the latter,” I explained. Shedding my normal routine took me out of my comfort zone and expanded my perspective. But coming back, I realized, could be challenging.

How would I sustain my own learning and not simply preserve the battery charge? What measures would I take upon re-entry to avoid the pratfall of what adult learning theorist Stephen Brookfield calls “cultural suicide” — the tendency to unintentionally shun the people to whom we’re returning home? How can we as leaders, employers, and even friends support those who find themselves in either a planned or unplanned transition?

For myself, I’m eager to make some adjustments to how I live and work rather than falling back into old routines — and repeating the battery life cycle.

To that end, I am right now designing implementation intentions based on a strategy introduced by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer.

Rather than state goals or broad “will-dos,” Gollwitzer suggests we reframe our plans as “if/then” statements. Implementation intentions sound like this: If Situation X arises, then I will perform Response Y. For example, if I find myself awake early, then I will re-read my latest book chapter. The “if” stands for the situational cue, and “then” for our planned response to that cue.

Implementation intentions sharpen when, where, and how we act on our goal. In my case, I’m eager to maintain the creativity of early morning work sessions I regularly enjoyed on sabbatical, and channel that creativity into my workday. Jumping immediately into work emails is the old pattern I’m looking to disrupt, on the insight that I am more focused if I get creative juices flowing then shift attention to email upon arriving at the office.

I plan to take Gollwitzer’s approach one step further and share my implementation intentions with a friend for encouragement and accountability.

We can help others make the most of their transitions by partnering to create new routines that support the perspective our colleagues have gained, the growth they felt, or the person they are becoming. We can make transitions more holistic by adding color to our palette or learning to paint the same scene differently, rather than stepping back into a static landscape in an outdated frame.

Lindsey Caplan is Director, Talent Development at Credit Karma, preparing to return to work while completing a book on how to bring people together for movement, for change, and for good. Follow her on Twitter at @lindsey_caplan and find her at