January 09, 2020
Embrace the inevitable: Many employees will take an extended leave during their career. Often, these are significant life moments, such as welcoming a child into one’s family, serving our country through a deployment, taking a sabbatical to reinvent oneself, suffering from a medical condition, providing care for a loved one or grieving the loss of a spouse or child. How employers react and manage the leave experience during these times of delight and distress impacts the business and individuals involved, yet many employers do not have a standard procedure to provide coverage for extended leaves.
Learn about the four strategies for maintaining business continuity and employee engagement when an employee is on parental, caregiver, medical, military, sabbatical, bereavement or another extended leave.
Important note: The strategies discussed in this resource may not be feasible nor appropriate for all industries, workforces and situations. Employers must be cognizant of and comply with all applicable legal requirements, such as Federal, state and local laws and union contracts.
Offer Stretch Assignments
A new, welcomed challenge can engage employees, provide real-world learning opportunities to develop new skills and offer exposure to potential future roles. Managers are responsible for ensuring this developmental experience is positive and should provide support and coaching to employees.
86% of employers responding to the 2019 Business Group Maternity Benefits and Supports Quick Survey use stretch assignments for parental leave coverage.
- Match coverage needs with team members’ goals
- Have the employee going on leave identify daily tasks and long-term projects that need coverage and other team members identify desired developmental opportunities; then identify any matches
- Ensure stretch assignments are granted only to employees in the same exemption status and recordkeeping reflects new role(s)
- Establish a fixed duration for the stretch assignment
- Meet training needs, if necessary
- Offer a bonus or temporary promotion to the employee(s) stepping up
- Recognize the employee(s) for contributions
- Review Job Satisfaction: The Secret Agent of Well-being for promising practices related to recognition and other important factors of work
- Make appropriate adjustments to performance goals
- Monitor team morale and offer solutions and/or flexibilities if the employee(s) become overwhelmed
Hire Temporary Staff
86% of employers responding to the 2019 Maternity Benefits and Supports Quick Survey hire temporary staff for parental leave coverage.
- Consider hiring or contracting work to previous high-performing employees who paused their career to raise children or care for a family member, or has retired and may be interested in a part- time opportunity
- Hire a part-time employee who can assist with administrative tasks as other team members take on new duties
- Get feedback from the employee going on leave on the job description and have them assist in interviewing
- Arrange overlap between the start of the leave and the temporary employee’s start date so the employee going on leave can provide training
- Use the Temporary assignment as a real-world assessment to gauge if the individual is a good fit for permanent employment
Formalize a Rotation Coverage Program
While only 5% of employers responding to the 2019 Quick Survey reported having a formal rotation program for leave coverage, Google’s innovative bungee program has been acknowledged as a solution that ensures business continuity during periods of absence and prevents office burnout.
- Establish eligibility perimeters, such as participants must be meeting or exceeding current performance standards
- Create an internal webpage to post rotation opportunities
- Ensure rotations are only granted to employees in the same exemption status and recordkeeping reflects the new role(s)
- Establish a fixed duration for the rotation
- Identify and discuss developmental goals with home and host supervisors
- Make arrangements to transition the participant’s work during the rotational assignment
- Make appropriate adjustments to include the rotation in the participant’s performance plan and be clear about how performance will be evaluated
- Give frequent feedback and coaching
- Remember that it is a developmental opportunity; the participant should not be expected to perform at the same level as the employee on leave
Leave Coverage Pool
A similar innovative idea for leave coverage is to establish a pool or bench of talent that can fill gaps when employees need time away from work. This strategy can be particularly advantageous if an unexpected situation arises that requires leave (or even when a top employee takes another job).
Redistribute & Postpone Work
Sometimes the best solution is to hit pause. If leadership decides to postpone work, adjust project schedules and/or spread responsibilities across the team, it is critical they monitor the morale of the team to ensure employees do not experience burnout while keeping the lights on.
62% of employers responding to the 2019 Maternity Benefits and Supports Quick Survey postpone work during a parental leave.
- Put long-term projects on hold until the employee returns
- Review the tasks each employee will be taking on as a team, so everyone understands the new distribution of work
- Ensure redistributed work is granted only to employees in the same exemption status and recordkeeping reflects the new role(s)
- Establish a fixed duration for any new responsibilities
- Be sure all employees know which projects to prioritize
- Check in regularly with employees, and provide assistance and coaching when needed
- Meet training needs, if necessary
- Recognize and reward employees that go above and beyond
- Pay close attention to what motivates employees and offer opportunities and flexibilities to maintain high levels of job satisfaction
- Review Job Satisfaction: The Secret Agent of Well-being for promising practices
A Positive Leave Experience = A Competitive Advantage
Employers offer paid leave to gain a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent, optimizing employee health and well-being and driving business results. In order to realize these benefits, employees going on leave and those stepping up to provide coverage must have positive feelings about the experience.
Ultimately, a positive or negative leave experience can impact an employee’s loyalty to the organization.
Remember: When employees take leave or provide coverage, it is critical to make them feel valued and secure.
Making Coverage Strategies Work
Tips for Supervisors and Teams
- Create a plan as a team
- Be creative—don’t jump to the simplest way to cover work
- Take advantage of the opportunity to let one or more junior employee stretch their capabilities
- Treat the experience as a succession planning activity and learn what unknown tasks your employees do
- Make necessary changes to performance goals—no one should be penalized for an increased workload
- If possible, anticipate planned communications and have the employee going on leave share templates
- Ensure the team can access necessary documents and databases
- Transition materials well in advance (at least 1 month for parental leave)
Best Practices for Organization & HR Leaders
- Engage important stakeholders, including senior leaders and managers, when developing leave policies and strategies for coverage
- Communicate policies widely and regularly, and tie messaging to the organization’s mission and values
- Highlight and recognize leave coverage success stories
- Train managers to be proactive in encouraging employees to seek growth opportunities
- Develop pulse checks for managers and employees to share feedback and express any concerns regarding leave policies or practices through focus groups, survey or interviews
- Comply with all applicable legal requirements, such as Federal, state and local laws and union contracts