Five ways HR practitioners can help line managers of employees taking extended leave

As HR practitioners we know better than most, how much line managers vary in their skill, attitude and willingness to invest in leading their teams. Even if your organisation has implemented a host of progressive policies to help women and men taking maternity and Shared Parental Leave – such as six months full pay, help towards childcare costs and phased returns – there’ll still be a huge gulf when it comes to the best and worst stories your employees can tell about their experience of coming back from extended leave. That’s because line managers shape how these things are positioned and delivered and line managers differ…

Our experience tells us that HR Business Partners can help line managers to ‘get it right’ by discussing and upskilling their internal clients on these five points:

  1. Talk about KIT and SPLIT days before your team member goes on leave
    Keeping In Touch (KIT) and Shared Parental Leave In Touch (SPLIT) days are vital for helping a colleague to continue to feel connected whilst away. Unless they are talked about before the team member takes leave, they can easily not happen: a line manager may feel they are overstepping a line if they get in touch with their colleague and suggest they do KIT/SPLIT days and/or the team member is afraid of looking needy or causing extra work for an overloaded line manager, are two of the classic reasons.
  2. Agree to create a plan for the first three months, before the team member returns
    Use time on one or more KIT/SPLIT days to consider what will be going on in the team/department/organisation, during the three months following the team member’s return date. Discuss what the returning team member will be involved in (their activity) and what they will deliver (their output). It’s vital both the line manager and team member have aligned expectations, to optimise performance.
  3. Ask, don’t assume what your returning colleague needs
    Some managers think they’re doing their colleague a favour by not loading them up when they first come back (10 out of 10 for compassionate thinking), but in fact this can make the team member feel that their line manager doesn’t think they’re up to the job. Alternatively, some line managers are quick to say, “you’re back not a moment too soon, there’s so much to do” and throw them in at the deep end – to signal that nothing has changed and “I still think you’re brilliant.” The truth is everyone is different and we encourage line managers to ask this scaling question of their recently returned team member every week or so: “On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is ‘I’m asleep I’m so unchallenged’ and 10 is ‘I can’t imagine being more overwhelmed than I am right now’ where are you?” Then to ask what led to their team member giving that response, whether they’d like to be at a different number and what needs to happen to get there (including resources/support/intervention from the line manager)
  4. View the first 3-6 months as a transition
    Transition means ‘different to business as usual.’ In practice this might mean things like having weekly 1:1s instead of monthly; encouraging the team member to spend more time meeting people around the organisation, than is strictly necessary to be able to perform his or her role; additional focus on training or shadowing; working different hours and allowing the team member to be in what we call ‘listening mode’ rather than having to be ‘up to speed’ and actively contributing to discussions and decision-making from day one.
  5. Make introductions and be a catalyst for relationships
    Imagine turning up late to a party where everyone seems to be having a good time, half the crowd is unfamiliar and you’re left to your own devices. Aaggghh, it’s awful. A great host will step in, broker introductions and sing your praises so that other guests fall in love with you – or at least want to carry on the conversation when the host slips away. Line managers need to be that party host, simples.

A guest blog by Jessica Chivers, CEO of The Talent Keeper Specialists, author and developer of Comeback Community™, a new platform to support colleagues taking extended leave – and their line managers.

The Talent Keeper Specialists help employers to fuel engagement, build confidence and shrink the time taken to return to peak performance when colleagues take any type of extended leave. Find out more about their Comeback Community platform at www.comebackcommunity.co.uk and join their discussions on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram @TalentKeepersUK. Find Jessica Chivers on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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