Leadership Insight #10 / 2023: Leaders on Leave - Tips for managing leave in leadership positions

4 October 2023

Leave is essential for an effective and sustainable workforce. We need leave to be a normalised part of work life and time must be taken to schedule it, prepare for it and return from it, effectively.  

There are many different reasons to take leave – holidays, sick leave, carers leave, parental leave, conference leave, sabbatical, secondments, etc. Leave provides opportunities to recharge, to look after loved ones and raise families, and to pursue other parts of life and areas of interest. But so often I hear people speak about their upcoming period of leave with a bit of fear, guilt and even shame.

These are all normal and natural emotions and responses. But they can get in the way of the purpose and benefit of leave.

We all need to take various forms of leave across each year and our career as a whole, so role modelling how to do this well can help everyone and form part of establishing a healthy work culture. Taking periods of leave can be beneficial to those who stay working to cover the leave colleagues and leaders, for example –

So, what can we do to support ourselves and others to take leave effectively?

Talk about your leave openly with colleagues

Taking leave isn’t a bad thing to do – even if it feels like you are adding extra burden to your overworked colleagues in the short term. Talking about it openly makes it easier to negotiate when and how everyone can fit in their leave needs across the year(s). The Christmas and new year period can be particularly stressful and difficult regarding leave and covering the roster, therefore focusing on building good communication practices regarding leave in general, that can support the more difficult conversations when not everyone‘s leave requests can be accommodated.

Preparation and handover before you go

Things are going to go better at work if people know you are going to be away than if they don’t. your colleagues don’t need to know where or why you are away – they just need to know what to expect re any changes, who to go to in your place and when to expect your return. While feelings of guilt can get in the way of talking openly, remember these conversations are really about work and ensuring patient care; not about you and your holiday.

Key steps to take:

While you’re away

Firstly, honour the leave and its purpose. If you’re taking a holiday – relax and unwind! If you are caring for loved ones, be present with them and engage with them fully. Take the ‘work’ of leave seriously.

If you are away for a long period of time – perhaps six months or a year – you may want to connect in for a particular event or meeting. This is something to discuss with a colleague; it can be supportive and effective to stay across same things and check-in occasionally.

When you return

Finally, thank your colleagues on your return. Gratitude and positive feedback go a long way to building healthy work culture – so use them whenever you can.

Going forward, think about the next periods of leave you have in your calendar, for the rest of the year and into 2024. Make a note to share your plans with relevant others as soon as it makes sense to do so, and don’t forget to also schedule time for the handovers.


By Dr Anna Clark (PhD)
Leadership coach and educator at AMAV

AMA Victoria’s Leadership and Career coaching sessions can support you to prepare for performance reviews. Whether the support is in strengthening leadership skills to engage in and run performance reviews effectively, or career coaching to support career planning or working on your CV or interview skills, there are several tailored offerings available.

AMA Victoria Preferred Suppliers