Want to make planning for a team member’s leave more manageable? Think of it in three phases—pre-leave, leave and post-leave, then roll out resources and communications accordingly.
PHASE 1: PRE-LEAVE—Gather & Share Information
Use the pre-leave phase to make sure questions are asked and answered. Sit down with your team and—together—get familiar with federal, state and local leave laws and your company’s leave and short-term disability policies. Start and encourage open dialog around how family leave differs from a sabbatical or vacation in terms of process and purpose. Talk through projects on the table and who might step in to lead and why. Be prepared to talk through what leave means for performance-reviews and promotions.
In the weeks before your employee goes out, finalize a leave plan with them. A good one includes timing, resource-gap coverage such as The Mom Project’s Maternityship program, which connects talent and companies specifically for maternity-leave coverage, and a communications plan outlining how often and how you’ll stay in touch. Keep in mind that life events like births and adoptions and family caregiving don’t always go as intended. Prepare your team to make and communicate adjustments on the fly as needed.
TIP: Transfer direct reports to their interim managers one to two weeks out to help ease transition whenever possible.
PHASE 2: LEAVE—Cover & Communicate
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. That is key to navigating a successful leave with an employee. Let them set a cadence comfortable for them. And, know that might shift over the leave. First-time parents, in particular, can underestimate the amount of time it takes to recover and find footing after the arrival of a child. Constant communication with the office might be overwhelming in those first weeks. There’s a balance to be struck, between keeping employees connected and giving them the space to disconnect if needed.
Use regular check-ins to touch base and reassure parents there’s no need to rush back. You and the team got them covered! But, also, make sure they know if they want to come back early, they’re welcomed and wanted.
Be sure, during this time, to also be scheduling regular check-ins with the coverage team to make sure tasks and timelines outlined in the leave plan are being met. No one wants to come back from leave to find a pile of undone work to tackle.
TIP: Many returning employees say the third week back is hardest as expectations to ramp up become more real and juggling home and family life is still a mystery. Keep that in mind when planning and scheduling.
Phase 3: Post-Leave—Welcome & Support
Returning to work can be lonely and isolating for new parent, they tell us. Both women and men coming back often feel as if co-workers without kids don’t understand the impact a child has on work/life balance. And, returning employees admit, it’s hard to explain. Women, in particular, report feeling worried they’re perceived as inadequate by their peers when they return.
With that in mind, allow for ample time and space for reintegration, while, at the same time, clearly communicating priorities and expectations and any options like part-time and flex work. If you can, find returning employees a “buddy” to debrief them on what’s been going on since they left and answer any questions.
Something as simple as a welcome-back gathering can go a long way toward reassuring and relaxing an employee anxious about returning to work .
No doubt, there’s a lot to consider and cover when an employee takes a leave of absence. But with smart planning, a phased approach and clear communication, you can make the experience as positive as possible for the entire team.
Want to learn more? Visit our friends at WerkLabs, the employee experience experts, for data, research and tips on optimizing employee leave.