Toughest LOA 2 copyI’m so glad to be writing my second post for ALEX’s ‘My Toughest Leave Of Absence Situations’ series. As I stated in part one of the series (My Toughest Leave Of Absence Situations: A Lesson In Generosity), there are some exceptional benefits-related experiences we aren’t quite prepared for. However, these situations usually teach us the biggest lessons about patience, empathy and grace.

Here is another one of my toughest LoA situations and the lessons I learned from it.

A Lesson In Action

During a particularly busy day, an employee dropped by and told me he needed to talk with me right away. I asked if it was possible to meet later in the afternoon, but the pause in his response gave me the clue he needed help now. After I found a private room he let me know his child had tried to commit suicide the day before. Naturally this statement sucked the air out of the room.

The urgent situation that needed my help? The ambulance that picked his daughter up after her suicide attempt had taken her to the closest emergency room (naturally). Unfortunately, both the hospital and the doctor assigned to her case were ‘out-of-network’, therefore the costs were not fully insured. When our employee got the hospital bill, he was shellshocked. Not only was he dealing with a crisis, but now he was dealing with a financial burden on top of it. He needed my help.

After listening to him, from the start I set expectations that there was likely little the insurance company would do to discount his bill. However, I promised him I would take over and immediately call all parties to see if anything could be done. I blocked off the rest of the day to handle it.

As you may have noticed, this issue so far isn’t technically a ‘leave of absence’ issue yet. However, the lessons learned here are transferable so I wanted to share. From the get go, the result of my ‘action’ didn’t get this employee any monetary ‘breaks’ from the insurance company. Regardless of the circumstances, it was what it was. But here is what my immediate action did do:

  • It calmed the employee down.
  • It gave the employee a private place to tear up. This may be a stereotypical comment, but most men are not so keen on crying in public (and lots of women for that matter as well).
  • It allowed the employee to focus on his daughter and not on calling insurance providers. Which was huge.
  • As a leader, I reaffirmed the importance of prioritizing employees in need above all other tasks. (As I mentioned before, this unforeseen issue was smack in the middle of about 12 other priorities.)

In addition, this unfortunate situation pushed me to get better benefits communication practices in place for our employees. Some basic education may have helped this employee to understand what to ask for before the daughter was taken to the hospital. He likely would have had her taken to the same out-of-network hospital, but he would have felt some control. And most importantly, this interaction, regardless of the result, built trust between me and the employee. He needed some help dealing with a horrible personal situation and I was able to give that to him.

The bottom line here? When immediate HR action is taken during times of employee crisis (many of which can include leave of absence requests) the trust bank built creates the foundation necessary for our teams to do our very best HR work.