Shawnee Love •
September 16, 2016
Nowhere in HR is it more important to be Human than in dealing with employee leaves. By leave, I am not referring to vacations or layoffs, but rather the kinds of leaves employees may require to take care of personal situations. Compassionate care, medical, bereavement, family responsibility, reservist, maternity, parental, etc. These leaves are challenging for both employer and employee, but putting it all in perspective, a leave for an employee is usually needed due to a major life stressor- personal illness or injury, illness or injury of an immediate family member, new baby (yes its happy, but it is still a stressful and emotional time), death in the family, problems with children or parents health or education, addiction recovery, etc. For the employee, not only may they be dealing with travel, doctors, lawyers, and reams of decisions and paperwork, but there is also often a significant amount of associated logistics and extended family concerns to deal with depending on what is going on for the employee. And on top of it all, there is the employee’s ability to cope with what is going on and how much more he or she can deal with. Furthermore, as we noted in a previous blog, the longer someone is away from the workplace, the more difficult it is for them to return. This fearfulness about returning to work occurs whether the person was injured at work, fell ill, or had to take time off to support a family member. To counter the fear, employers need to stay in touch with employees on leave and let them know they are wanted back. It also helps if employers are proactive, flexible and supportive as noted in the blog.
For the employer, leaves are challenging because backfilling is often required if the leave is long term or even goes longer than expected, but it isn’t always easy to find out how long the employee expects to be off let alone find someone willing to be a temp employee. Further, if the leave occurs due to an emergency (accident, aggressive illness, etc.) it can be difficult to get accurate information from the employee affected. So while you still have a business to run and therefore need to know certain information in order to plan and cover for the individual as well as keep things moving, your employee may simply not call you back for days on end. You as employer are expected to take the high road and be supportive and at the same time, employees on leave who have important information, relationships, or roles to play can leave gaping holes in organizations which need to be filled.
Frankly, this is another employment situation where it pays to have two things:
- A well laid out policy which speaks to what is required to go on leave, how leaves will be handled, and what will happen on the return to work, and
- A full relationship piggy bank before the leave begins. The stronger your relationship with your employee, the better likelihood your relationship can withstand the many opportunities for miscommunication, misunderstanding, and mistakes within a leave process.
Both of these increase the likelihood that the person on leave will be treated with the compassion, empathy and understanding necessary to make your company’s leave management feel like a human process to the people participating. And that’s a good thing not only for the person on leave but the other employees who witness the entire process and judge your organizational culture on it.