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Whether it’s from a leave of absence for professional development, coming back after parental leave, or returning after an illness, welcoming a team member back to work after extended time away doesn’t always go smoothly. Getting back into the swing of things can be overwhelming for a returning employee – there’s a mountain of emails to catch up on, and things have moved on in their absence. After extended time away, getting into the flow of work routines while keeping productivity levels up is a tall order for a team member who’s likely just experienced a big life event.

Here are a few of our recommendations for making the return to work process as smooth as possible:

Allow the dust to settle.

No one is productive when they’re feeling overwhelmed. The initial excitement around catching up with colleagues and seeing familiar faces can quickly fade when confronted with the reality of a packed inbox and an organization that has moved forward without you. Though there may be a pile of work looming, it’s important for people managers to keep perspective, have reasonable expectations, and allow the returning team member time to re-centre and re-calibrate. With inevitable catch-up and training on changes, avoid inundating a returning employee with new tasks and projects during the first few weeks back and factor in extra time to handle any post-leave admin.

Offer flexibility.

Flexibility can make a big difference to morale and retention. Especially for employees returning to work after a sick leave, compassionate care leave, or parental leave, they have gone through some big life events while away! Your flexibility and understanding will go a long ways towards making the transition back to work a smooth and stress-free one for all involved. Flexible workplace policies are a big plus at any time of year, but can be especially impactful as employees get back into the groove after time away. Allow employees to balance work and life obligations by flexing start and end times, fitting in appointments where needed, or modifying their schedule.

Establish new priorities and focus on the future.

An employee’s return following a leave can be a great chance for everyone on the team to regroup and get excited about the path ahead! This is an ideal time to hit “reset”, use this opportunity to fill them in on what they’ve missed, and revisit strategy and priorities for the coming months. Instead of letting everyone slip quietly back into the status quo, set aside some team time and use that “fresh start” feeling to your advantage. Book a strategy session and get everyone on the same page by revisiting the way forward and establishing clear goals together.

Reconnect as a team.

Task your social committee with planning a low-key welcome for the returning employee. Of course, use good judgment with this: hosting a raucous party for a team member returning from a lengthy illness might not be appropriate, so consider the reason for the leave and adjust your welcome accordingly. Some ideas – circulate a card and leave a cheerful plant on their desk, bring in baked goods and schedule an official coffee break in everyone’s calendar, or pitch in for a small gift to mark an occasion.

Double your appreciation efforts.

Some studies suggest employees are more likely to quit after they return from extended time away. Prevent turnover and keep happiness levels high while people get back into the rhythm by doubling up on your appreciation efforts. Go beyond “Thank You” by learning how your team members want to be appreciated, and commit to appreciating their efforts in their language!

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Have an employee returning to work? Review the list above to make sure welcoming them back will be smooth sailing!

Feeling the need to formalize your return to work plan? Give us a call to talk it through!

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