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2015 was quite the year, with many companies making some radical (in a totally positive and most awesome way) changes and additions to their leave programs.
I get it, we can’t all be Vodafone, Netflix, Twitter, or Adobe when it comes to parental and other leave programs – but that doesn’t mean that you get to throw your hands up and say “whatever.” That’s because the number one thing that we as HR professionals need to do regarding having an effective leave program isn’t about creating and providing the most generous benefits you can operate and afford. No. That’s not it at all friends. The most important thing is ensuring that your employees can effectively use and take advantage of the programs that you do have in place – and that means creating a program and environment where people feel comfortable to take leave and know that things back at the office are okay and “covered.”
When we hear LOA many of us automatically jump to maternity or paternity leave – easily two of the most common types of leave, but employees can go out for any number of medical or other non-medical leaves that you might have set up for your company. While some leaves are more unexpected than others, there are still a few things that you can do to be proactive and some structures you can put in place to help employees at ease when they go out on leave — while also leave your business operations in tact.
Prepare and Train Your Managers
I find that many managers do not know what to do when an employee needs to go on leave, whether it is a planned or unplanned leave. We can work with managers to get them information and train them on exactly what leave is. I know, it seems like it’s pretty straightforward – that’s the HR person in you talking – but many managers don’t know what the different types of leaves are, how they work, and what their responsibilities are.
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We don’t need to make mini HR managers out of them, but they should understand how leaves work, where and how to be flexible with the employee, and still provide coverage for the operations of the business, and how to partner with HR during the duration of the leave. For every company that I’ve personally worked for, this has looked different from a people manager’s point of view – so as an HR person, define the situation and ensure that managers have the information they need readily available. Give them an easy to follow checklist, badge card, desk cling, webpage, a poster (whatever works for your work environment) – something that says: “Do this,” “Call this number,” “Ask these questions,” “Create this plan” (if working to plan a leave), and “Execute your leave plan.”
Depending on your program and your HR structure you may have more or less items for your managers. The important thing is to think about what they need and make it easy for them to access it – and ensure that they go to those resources when the time comes.
…And Your Employees
Employees need the same type of information – and in general I think that we, as HR pros, do a better job of getting information to employees than managers, particularly for a planned leave. Employees know that if they need time away from work … go to their HR team for more information on what to do next. The bigger challenge is when the leave is unexpected – do your employees, or their dependents, know who to contact? If your employee is not able to get in touch with you themselves, do you have an easy and straightforward way for a spouse, significant other, child, etc to get you the information?
Understand What “Leave Ready” Means
If you don’t come into work tomorrow, is your job “leave ready”? Its a phrase that I use whenever I talk to managers and employees about making their jobs easy for someone else to pick up – for any reason. Everyone should be thinking about this on a regular basis so that at any given time you have some level of readiness, but it’s particularly important if you know that you have an employee who will be going on leave soon. That’s when they – employees and managers – really need to think about that handoff.
Where are the keys? The list of clients? Where are documents stored? Employees need to have this laid out and managers should know where this information is. Its not so that managers can micro-manage. It’s so that we can continue business operations if needed.
Also important is identifying a person(s) and/or plan to take on key responsibilities – or even what things might not happen if someone it out of office for an extended time. Encourage your managers to come up with the plan before you need it so that you can have something to guide you during those times when people are out of the office – and make it part of your regular routine.
Many of us help our managers and teams come up with “backup continuity and recovery plans” (BCRPs) to help get business operations back up and running after a disaster. Consider helping managers create one for their team – and make LOA one of the situations.
What do you think? What are some things that you do for your managers and teams to ensure that they are “leave ready?”