Engaging Managers in the Leave Experience

Managers are critical to elevating the leave experience for employees, and employers are supporting them through this process.


September 28, 2023

Managers are among the most important allies for both the organization and the employee during the leave life cycle and can make or break the employee leave experience. They are often the first point of contact for employees at the start of a leave request and can be crucial to supporting employees and directing them to appropriate resources as they prepare for a leave. Employers should engage managers at multiple touchpoints throughout the leave process, ensuring they are well-equipped to support employees each step of the way.

This resource serves as a companion piece to Elevating the Leave Experience, which outlines how leading employers are supporting employees before, during and after a leave journey.

Tee up the experience through training

Training managers in conjunction with leaves of absence can ensure a smoother leave experience for all. Many employers require regular manager trainings throughout the year, as well as more topical training when a direct report goes on leave (i.e., if an employee takes FMLA, the manager is required to complete training specific to that leave type). Some employers take it a step further by requiring managers to complete training both before and during an employee’s leave. In addition to training managers on the legal and logistical elements of leave, many employers take a proactive training approach focused on the human side of leave. For example, training managers to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis before the severity escalates can ensure that the employee is aware of available benefits and is supported in essential moments. Manager education can also reduce the stigma that may accompany leave. One study found that just 3 hours of mental health awareness training improved leaders’ mental health literacy in the workplace.1

Beyond reducing mental health stigma, leading employers are working to create a more supportive leave environment. Some employers have noted that managers may be skeptical of employees taking leave, especially in a front-line environment where an employee on leave can directly impact business outputs and put strain on the team. Employers should encourage an environment that assumes positive intent when an employee needs to take leave.

Reduce managers’ responsibility

Sixty-one percent of managers reported that they have more responsibility at work now than they did before the pandemic, which may likely include reviewing requests for leaves of absence.2 This additional burden may lead to inconsistencies in how leave is approved and denied, based on the manager’s level of training and understanding of available leave benefits. In addition to training, employers can lighten the load for managers by reducing as much of the administrative burden as possible. Instead of relying on managers to submit leave paperwork, leading employers have begun to deploy simple, direct communications that make it easy for managers to approve or deny a leave request. Many employers have also created “off-the-shelf” approved job adjustments for employees before or after a leave that managers can act on without a formal approval process.

Guide managers with talking points

When supporting an employee during the leave process, managers might often feel at a loss for words, hesitant to say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question. To help managers gracefully navigate these tough conversations, employers are supporting them with talk tracks and conversation guides. These guides can include guardrails on what type of personal and professional questions are appropriate to ask (or avoid) while an employee is on leave, and upon their return. These conversation guides may also include template communications for managers to adapt, such as email language offering congratulations on a new arrival or language expressing sympathy after the loss of a loved one.

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  • 1 | Dimoff J, Kelloway K, Burnstein M. Mental health awareness training (MHAT): The development and evaluation of an intervention for workplace leaders. International Journal of Stress Management.  23(2): 167-189.
  • 2 | O.C. Tanner. Preventing manager burnout. https://www.octanner.com/articles/preventing-manager-burnout. Accessed August 15, 2023.
More in Well-being and Workforce Strategy


  1. Tee up the experience through training
  2. Reduce managers’ responsibility
  3. Guide managers with talking points