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In a perfect world, every employee would be able to come to work in top notch shape and perform at 100%, without ever missing a day. In real life, things happen, and it’s inevitable that employees sometimes need time off from work to address those big life things that can come up – whether it’s illness, injury, or personal “tough stuff”.

When it comes to managing leaves, many leaders experience a sense of internal conflict. While you want to support your employees’ wellbeing and allow them needed time off to recover, the fact remains that you still have a business to run!

As an employer or people manager, it can be especially difficult to know how and when to communicate and connect with employees who are on leave so that their recovery is supported, and the organization is kept in the loop and able to continue to operate smoothly.  

To help make the process easier, there are some key points to keep in mind when communicating with employees on leave.

Put it in your manual. Clarify leave-related expectations up front by including detailed policies on accommodation and leaves in your employee handbook. Your policy should outline the leaves employees are eligible for and explain the basic steps to request a leave, as well as accommodation and return to work procedures.

Have a plan and stick to it. While you may not always have advance notice,whenever possible, come up with a communication plan with timelines for check-ins and communication methods before the employee goes off on leave. That way, both parties are clear on when check-ins will happen and there are no surprises for anyone.

Keep them in the loop. Be sure to include employees on leave where appropriate, so that they don’t feel isolated and know they’re being kept informed on important events, especially when the organization celebrates milestones and accomplishments. This can be a bit of a balancing act, as you also want to make sure you’re not sending so many messages that they feel pressured into returning to work too soon or are disrupted in their recovery by the frequency of communication.

Ramp up communication prior to return to work. During accommodation planning, schedule more frequent communication during the period immediately prior to their scheduled return to work. This helps support and prepare employees, and the organization, for a smooth return to work.

Take your cues from the employee. Has the employee been initiating communication during their absence? Outside of regularly scheduled check-ins, take your communication cues from the employee themselves. Every individual is different, and every circumstance is unique, so adjust your communication frequency and style accordingly. If an employee has been reaching out informally on a regular basis during their absence, they’re likely open to more frequent contact. On the flip side, if there’s been radio silence from them, it’s wise to keep communication to scheduled check-ins.  

Approach the situation with empathy. Chances are, your employees on leave aren’t off on holiday twiddling their thumbs and having a great time! Usually when a leave is required, it’s because some challenging life event has come up for your team member. While it can be easy to focus on the inconvenience and extra business pressures created by their absence, it’s worth reminding yourself to approach conversations with employees on leave through a lens of support and concern – the human element is key from both a moral and operational perspective!

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Leave management can be a challenge to navigate, and every situation is unique. If you have a team member currently on leave, refer to the points above to make sure you’ve ticked all the right boxes with your communication strategy.

Still not clear? If it’s time to revisit your leave management or accommodation policies, we’re always happy to support!

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