How to Manage Leaves of Absence Like a Boss
Leaves of absence are a fact of life. As more data comes out supporting the benefits of extended leaves, not just for the employee, but for the company as well, it’s not surprising that more organizations are embracing flexible leave policies.
One recent study by the Harvard Business Review indicated that employees who take regular breaks tend to have 30 percent greater focus than their colleagues who don’t take enough time off. Furthermore, employees who feel encouraged by their managers to take breaks are nearly 100% more loyal.
Offering the option of extended time off, particularly for maternity and paternity leave, can dramatically improve employee retention. Just look at Google, who saw a 50% drop in new mothers resigning as a direct result of increasing paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18. They are not the only ones following this trend.
- American Express provides 20 weeks of paid parental leave. Birthing mothers may also be eligible for an additional six to eight weeks.
- Coca-Cola allows birth mothers to take at least 12 weeks of paid leave, while fathers receive 6 weeks paid leave, as do adoptive parents and same-sex partners.
- Facebook provides mothers and fathers 100 percent of their weekly earnings for four months (87 weekdays) following birth or adoption.
- Deloitte offers 16 weeks of fully paid family leave time for either men or women engaged in caregiving.
- Netflix offers unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave.
Why is granting employee leave so important? Experts estimate that it can cost 20% or more of an employee’s salary to replace him or her. Offering more flexibility in the area of time off significantly reduces the expenses associated with employee turnover.
What happens in the interim?
You cannot have an empty seat in your office for months at a time. Even more importantly, what do you do when the person taking leave happens to hold a high-level position? Thankfully there are several options, many of which can help ensure a minimally disruptive transition period. Let’s take a look at some of those options.
Tap into existing resources.
One way a company can account for absent employees is to create a pool of other existing workers who are capable of covering for certain jobs on a temporary basis. This strategy is manageable for a short absence, but can be challenging for longer leaves.
If the work is divvied up amongst a large number of employees, the impact on each individual worker may be minimal. The challenge is when there are not enough people to handle the workload of the absent employee, or the tasks at hand are particularly complex; the extra work can quickly become a burden. This can lead to a decrease in engagement and morale, a drop in the quality of work produced and additional expenses to the company, such as increased overtime hours.
If you plan on going this route with an impending employee leave, come up with a plan for who will handle what and obtain buy-in from all parties well in advance. Do not leave things until the last minute and remember, if the leave is maternity related, accounting for a potential early arrival is a wise idea.
Leverage outside assistance.
If you don’t have the resources in-house to fill in the gap during an employee’s extended leave, there are other options available to you. For instance, depending on the position and duties, you could outsource some or all of the workload to a freelance contractor. This can be done on-site or remotely, whichever you feel most comfortable with. Virtual contractors and freelancers can be easily found by searching various sites, such as Upwork, Guru and Freelancer.
If the job is something a college student or recent grad might be a good fit for, you may have some luck finding temporary help through College Recruiter.
On-Demand Temporary Talent
Of course, not all jobs can be easily turned over to a freelancer. For more senior positions, it’s better to work with a company that specializes in leave management. These companies have already vetted individuals who are highly educated and uniquely skilled in a particular field of business, such as accounting, marketing or human resources. Fractional workers are ready to jump in and pick up right where the absent employee left off.
This is the foundation of what we do at Inspire HR. We have a team of interim experts who specialize in filling in the gaps that occur during an employee’s leave. Other similar on-demand talent resources include:
- Priori Legal—Attorneys/General Counsel
- Early Growth Financial Services—CFO/Accounting/Tax
- Ripple IT —Tech Support
- Mavens & Moguls— Marketing
- Growth Geeks—Writing/Design
Benefits of On-Demand Support
Beyond filling the empty seat in your office (either physically or virtually), there are a number of value-added benefits to working with an on-demand talent provider. Some of these advantages are as follows:
- Cost Effective – Employees are the backbone of any organization and hiring the wrong person can be an expensive mistake (as can spreading the workload across a team of employees who are already stretched thin).
- Time Savings – With qualified interim talent, there’s no need to disrupt your organization’s normal business activities. Companies like Inspire HR have consultants with top-notch expertise ready to parachute in exactly when and where you need them.
- Flexibility – Consultants are immediately available, whether it’s for a few days or several months.
- Peace of Mind – Knowing the consultant who is filling in is only doing so temporarily gives the employee a sense of comfort that his or her job will be waiting when the leave is over.
- Expertise – When you work with an expert in the field you’re temporarily trying to fill, you will get access to someone who brings an external perspective and innovative ideas.
- Improved Engagement & Retention – Leveraging fractional workers alleviates the burden on existing staff, keeping other employees more engaged and satisfied. This can improve retention.
- Less Stress/Tension – When an existing employee is asked to fill in for a colleague, there is often tension between the two when the person on leave returns. Temporary interim talent eliminates this stress and uneasiness.
Expert Advice for Employers
Over the many years, Inspire HR has been providing professional consultancy services, we have witnessed and experienced firsthand the many different scenarios that can occur with employee leaves. Here are a few things we’ve learned that employers can do to ease the process of managing an extended leave.
Plan ahead. For leaves that are planned in advance, such as parental leave, it can be helpful to bring the temporary worker in beforehand to work side by side with the employee who will be leaving. This can facilitate a smoother transition.
Onboard consultants. Consider onboarding your temporary employee just as you would a new permanent worker. This helps the fractional talent and your organization get the most out of your investment.
Use technology. Have the exiting employee create a working document, preferably one that can be updated in real-time such as a Google Doc. This document can serve as an ongoing resource to share and store key information, such as passwords, relevant contacts, deliverables, milestones, and other instructions. The temporary worker can then continue to update the Google Doc in preparation for the employee’s return, ensuring a smoother re-entry.
Leverage overlap. Rather than having the fractional worker come in after the employee is already on leave, or exit the same day as the permanent employee returns, extend the contract on both ends by a week or two. This will allow for knowledge transfer, additional training and briefing of any and all changes that took place during the employee’s absence. Additionally, in our experience, overlap can streamline exit and reentry, dramatically improving productivity and engagement.
In conclusion, the trends don’t lie. Offering greater flexibility and extended time off is something that can benefit your employees as well as your organization. All it takes is a little finesse and some smart planning. The tips and resources listed above should help point you in the right direction for ensuring smooth, uneventful leaves of absence.
Of course, if you find yourself in need of help with any of your HR functions, do not hesitate to reach out at (917) 612-8571 or [email protected]. We’re here to help!