Medical leave is something that we hear a lot about in the business world these days. From articles on how awful the U.S. maternity and paternity leave law is in comparison to developed countries worldwide, to the stress put on the employees left in the office when a colleague goes out on leave, there are so many factors to consider when it comes to leave policies and handling them like a pro. The best way to handle leaves of absence is to take a three step process based on the mantra of “plan, prepare and conquer!” And when all else fails, consider hiring a temp!
Plan – As with any major change in the workplace, handling a leave of absence well is critical to the flow of work and the productivity of the employees left behind. Here are a few steps to having a good plan in place!
- Cross-train your employees now so that if a sudden leave request comes up (of course, a pregnancy is something you will probably have advanced warning about but a cancer diagnosis – not always something you can predict!) you have some peace of mind in terms of people in the office knowing what Joe did on a day-to-day basis.
- Have at least one designated back-up for every person in your department. Better yet, have a clear plan outlined in writing for your entire team.
- Prepare – Planning and preparing go hand in hand. Your plan should be a design of sorts, and the preparation should be the actual put into action.
- Ask for advice and suggestions from the employee going out on leave (if you have advanced notice – i.e. maternity or paternity leave).
- If the person going out on leave interacts with clients, make sure you assign a shadow for that person before their leave so that the client is familiar with the stand-in while he or she is out on leave.
- FMLA regulations do allow for loopholes in terms of contacting employees for passwords and minor things (but do not ask for anything that may cause extra stress to the person out on leave). But it’s best to have these things in place prior to the leave.
- Conquer – Divide and conquer! One person’s workload should be divided up amongst the department if at all possible so that you are not overloading one employee over others.
- Assign tasks to those that are already proficient in that area. For instance, don’t give the employee benefit database to Jane to maintain while Joe is out if Jane has never worked with a spreadsheet or database in her day-to-day tasks.
- Offer training for those individuals being assigned new duties.
- Push some stuff to the back burner…not every meeting is necessary, not every email needs to be answered in 5 minutes. Prioritize and breathe!