Going on leave may harm your career in the short run.
I often work with clients in my private practice as a psychologist that are experiencing burnout. Sometimes it is appropriate for these clients to take a medical leave — also called disability leave or stress leave — from their jobs so they can recover. This becomes especially relevant when their job is relentlessly demanding, and the opportunity to recover isn’t present while they are on the job.
Clients may say, “My career will be finished if I take medical leave.”
This may be true with your present employer because you may be judged as being “too weak,” or “not committed enough,” or “not dependable enough.”
But taking medical leave may still be necessary, regardless of what your employer believes.
Once you are off work and away from the job, several things may happen:
- You may discover that the demands being put on you are unreasonable, and you may wonder how you’ve taken it for so long.
- You may discover that your skills are in high demand, and you can look for work with another firm that will make reasonable demands of you.
- You may discover that there is a skill you need to acquire, which will enable you to perform your job with less stress. This may be a complex skill, like letting go of perfectionist standards that kept you at your desk late into the evening. But once you have the new skill, you may be able to return to your job and perform just fine.
- You may discover that you want something different out of life, and that you are prepared to make a career change to explore another direction.
Some jobs are too big for one person to handle.
A dirty little secret most employers won’t tell you is that they are prepared to let you work yourself to the bone because you are solving a big problem for them by taking on so much. They may only have to pay one person to do the job even though they should be paying two. This puts money in the company’s pocket and makes the supervisor look good to their boss. It also helps supervisors achieve objectives that aren’t reasonable, which may help them protect their own job.
So what about the stigma?
Does taking leave really mean you can’t take it? Sometimes it does. But sometimes it means you’ve taken on too much and you need to rest and get a fresh perspective on your personal and work life so you can figure things out. And if this means that people think you can’t take it, then you can find a way to make peace with that.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta