5 Signs Your Leave of Absence Process Needs Fixing (Plus Some Thoughts On Where to Start)

Jellyvision Benefits Communication

Leave of absence policies exist so to help employees navigate any changes life throws their way. But even the most well-meant policy can become problematic when it’s not managed as well as it could be, or if it’s not doing what it’s supposed to.

Here are five signs it might be time to upgrade the way you implement—and communicate about—your company’s leaves of absence…and some thoughts on how to right the ship.

#1. Your LOA process makes employees feel overwhelmed instead of understood

It’s easy to get so bogged down in the endless “to-dos” involved in leave administration that you forget that your employees—nay, your coworkers—taking that leave are dealing with something stressful, if not a matter of life-or-death. None of us try to make somebody feel like they’re just a number…but it still happens.

What you can do:

There are two simple-yet-important ways to help make your employees’ LOA experience less stressful right from the start. First: make sure your communication with them is as clear as possible. Second: build more empathy into your process.

More specifically:
• Offer information digitally so it’s easier for employees to keep track of.
• Share a timeline of their leave so there are no unwelcome surprises.
• Send a card to the employee’s home a few weeks after she leaves work, wishing her well.
• And try to respond to questions and concerns in the most timely way possible, even if it means firing off a quick email saying “I got your email, will let you know by EOD.”
Your employees will appreciate the extra TLC more than you probably realize…and tell others about it, too.

Read this article for even more ideas on creating a more empathetic leave process.

#2. Your leave administrators answer the same questions again and again…and they’re over it

If this describes your wonderful leave team, it’s time to revamp your FAQ page, ASAP (or time to make an FAQ page, if you don’t have one!) Post the most common questions (we’re going out on a limb here and guessing that most people just want to know about pay) on your intranet and make your answers as simple and jargon-free as possible. Put info around scheduling and compensation front and center, and for the love of that poor LOA-taker, do not bury this info in a sub-page of a pop-up window or some other impossible-to-find location.

If you REALLY want to make everyone’s lives easier, find a digital solution (okay, sure, like ALEX Leave of Absence) that can gather each employee’s unique information and give them custom, personalized answers that combine company policy, personal benefits (like accrued PTO), and state and legal requirements. Hear that? It’s the sound of your leave administrators, shedding tears of sweet relief.

#3. Your managers, love ‘em to bits, sometimes feel like a liability

If you’re an employee who is seeking leave, it’s very likely that your first step will be talking to your manager…who may or may not be up on current leave policy.

Not every manager can be a fully informed, bona fide LOA expert (the few, the proud, the legally compliant). But you know what every manager can do? Go to a training session you set up (and perhaps require) for some basic communication tips, an LOA timeline that calls out their to-dos, and manager-focused FAQs.

Will it take some elbow grease to create these resources? Sure. But you’ll be saving yourself serious headaches and time for years to come.

#4. You’re overdoing it with the “we’ll give you space thing”…and your employees feel lost

Giving people room to deal with serious personal stuff is good; giving people room to the point of losing track of them…is not.* Lack of steady communication can lead to a lot of unintended consequences for employees, like an unclear sense of when and how to come back. Worse yet, it could lead a beloved, valued employee to think that they aren’t even being missed, so they never return (aka, many managers’ absolute worst nightmare).

So make sure to keep the lines of communication open as much as you’re able to. Set up clear guidelines about when you’ll be in touch, and who will initiate contact. And do your employees a solid by putting important info online, so they have access it 24/7.

* We realize there are strict laws out there about employees not working while they’re on leave. But that doesn’t mean your company automatically needs a strict policy on communicating with those employees while they’re not working.

#5. You don’t bother surveying your employees about their experience

If you already do this, congrats! You’re ahead of the curve.

If you don’t, you should start!

Remember what we just said about the importance of communication? Keep that party going. Getting honest employee feedback is the best way to find out where you’re knocking it out of the park and where you could do better.

A few bonus tips:

Some employees may feel uncomfortable giving constructive criticism about anything related to a benefit as inherently helpful as a leave of absence; it may feel like they’re looking a gift horse in the mouth. To encourage their honesty, be insistent about your desire for ideas on how to improve your process.

Also, you’ll likely get more specific feedback if you proactively jog employees’ memories about the steps in the LOA process they just experienced. If you don’t, the previous months or weeks may seem like just a blur.