Employee leave management is an important responsibility that causes stress for many HR professionals. Your company’s employee leave policies need to adhere to extensive federal, state, and local laws while also ensuring they reflect any relevant industry and union regulations. Failure to comply can bring about legal repercussions.
Still, it’s not just the tangled web of legal rules you need to worry about. The way you manage employee leave can impact the quality of your company’s product and service. Without careful planning, your organization might end up being short-staffed in critical areas of the business. This can burden employees and slow down vital workflows, resulting in missed deadlines and possibly impacting your customer’s experience.
And if those two reasons weren’t enough to cause stress, an inconsistent or clumsy approach to leave management can harm your employees’ perception of your company’s culture.
For these reasons and more, it’s no wonder leave management often becomes overwhelming and stressful. If things go wrong, there can be a cascade of negative consequences. But handled the right way, leave management can be easier than you would expect, and more predictable. It can even become a competitive advantage.
Below are eight tips we’ll discuss to help you reduce stress and excel at leave management:
- Pay attention to relevant laws
- Create clear policies and guidelines
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Be mindful of when to communicate with employees on leave
- Have a leave management system
- Enlist the support of your organization’s leaders and managers
- Expect the unexpected
- Create a welcoming return to work
1. Pay attention to relevant laws
To begin, it is imperative to have a working knowledge of federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). State laws related to Paid Family Leave (PFL) could have even more requirements, and likewise industry and union regulations. You need to pay attention to all of the above in order to stay legally compliant.
Understanding and adhering to these laws and regulations requires a lot of time and attention. That is why some companies hire an expert—or even a team of experts—to handle compliance. Other companies use leave management software supported with a dedicated leave specialist, such as with Sparrow, to simplify the process and give HR team members time for other critical responsibilities.
2. Create clear policies and guidelines
The time you spend creating clear policies and guidelines will pay dividends. When it comes to leave management, the proverb rings true: An ounce of prevention is far better than a pound of cure. Therefore, when creating and updating your policies and guidelines, imagine every possible scenario. Describe them in ways that others in your company will find clear and actionable.
Also, collaborate with your HR colleagues and other stakeholders in your company, including leaders. They might offer valuable feedback and ideas. Getting their buy-in and support will make your leave-management efforts more effective.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The more familiar employees are with how your company manages employee leave, the easier and less stressful managing a leave of absence becomes. Be sure you communicate your leave-management policies and guidelines in a variety of ways.
Here are a few to consider:
- During employee onboarding, with HR managers and line managers, both verbally and written
- Updated digital employee manual that reflects the company’s latest leave guidelines
- Intranet resource hub where employees can easily search and find the company’s different leave benefits
- Provide updates and reminders by way of email or other internal communication channels
- Start a “Did You Know” HR newsletter where you share leave of absence FAQs
- Request a segment at company wide meetings where employees can ask HR about leave regulations, how payroll works, and the company’s leave benefits
People managers play a key role in communicating and reinforcing expectations, so communicate with them, too.
4. Be mindful of when to communicate with employees on leave
With rare exceptions, companies should not contact their employees on leave. In particular, employers should not ask them to come into the office or engage in work-related matters. Doing so can be perceived as interfering with their leave and leave pay.
Before an employee takes leave, HR should document the employee’s preferred method of necessary communication by email, phone, text, or other means.
If you do contact an employee on leave, it should be for reasons that are related to their leave. For example, to ask how they are doing and clarify when they will be returning to work. Aside from some very narrow circumstances, you should do your best to give your employees the time and space they need to focus on the reasons they are on leave.
5. Have a leave management system
If you have a lot of employees, managing employee-leave requests can be an enormous burden. This is especially true if you rely on old-school tools such as email, texts, spreadsheets, or paper-written notes.
That is why it is a good idea to look into an ultramodern, robust, and easy-to-use solution like Sparrow which can:
- Streamline requests and approvals
- Help you comply with relevant laws and regulations
- Provide a dashboard for leave tracking
- Improve your team’s management capabilities and effectiveness
- Reduce stress for yourself and your employees
6. Enlist the support of your organization’s leaders and managers
They can help convey and reinforce your leave-management policies and guidelines. Their buy-in and advocacy can increase your effectiveness. They can also flag problems and issues, and help you address them.
7. Expect the unexpected
Life happens. Sometimes employees need to take a leave they could not foresee—for example, because of a medical diagnosis or a family emergency. In these situations, it’s smart to have quick and flexible guidelines in place, so you’re prepared to manage these events. Consider having a concentrated workflow of crucial leave requirements and ensure that your digital leave policies are readily at hand.
Unexpected leaves are also opportunities for managers and leaders to show employees their support. Doing so will reinforce a caring and respectful culture.
8. Create a welcoming return to work
After an extended leave, some employees need help transitioning back to their lives at work. Therefore, consider creating guidelines for your company’s leaders and people managers so they can help. Welcome-back messages can be a great encouragement. So can new team-member introductions and progress briefs.
Having a re-onboarding process will help those returning from leave to feel welcomed, valued, and better prepared to achieve their best once again.
Making leave management a competitive advantage
Many have called the past two years the “Great Resignation.” Millions of employees have left the U.S. workforce, often because they had lost respect for their company’s culture.
Your approach to managing employee leave is therefore more important than ever. It can be an example of your company’s caring and respectful culture and your commitment to excellence. It can bring to life important ways that your leaders and managers support your people.
To be sure, leave management is complex. But with the right policies, systems, and tools, it can be far less daunting and stressful. In fact, it can be a critical part of your company’s operations and success and you can make it a competitive advantage.