The Loop

Re-engagement after an Employee’s Absence

by Jennifer Lincicum
Filed under: Absenteeism/Presenteeism

Maternity. Disability. Rehires. For whatever reason an employee returns to the job after an extended absence, it's important that he gets re-engaged into the fold quickly. Sometimes it's even easier for new hires to start feeling at home, because associates go out of their way to help them learn processes, procedures, and new technology. But in the case of a returning employee, everyone may assume he or she already knows how to do everything, not appreciating the changes made in his absence, such as new technology, processes, managers and promotions. All of these factors can converge to cause "old hires" to feel left behind, and it will take them that much longer to become productive again.

That's why it's important to start an outreach program long before the employee actually returns to work. For starters, studies have shown that when a manager reaches out to express concern about the absent employee, it helps strengthen the employee's sense of loyalty to the company. On the other hand, if a manager reaches out only to inquire when he plans to return to work, it puts pressure on the employee and generates anxiety.

However, this is dicey territory. It's tough for a manager to call an employee at home and ask how he's doing. This can easily fall into the legal arena of health privacy, so some supervisors and managers are hesitant to reach out to employees who are off for health reasons. While this is a legitimate concern, it's also very important that the employee feels missed and needed by both the company and his co-workers. During the initial phase of an absence, it may make sense to give the employee time to deal with his situation. But at some point the manager and even co-workers should be encouraged to touch base to see how the employee is doing. Just be sure to steer clear of asking about anything concerning health information.

One way you can easily stay in touch is to forward company newsletters and information to the employee. If he does not have access to his company email, forward them to his personal email or print them out and mail them directly to his home. This extra effort will demonstrate your desire to keep him included and up-to-date. As long as it's not too much for the particular situation, reaching out and keeping the employee engaged throughout his absence can do him a world of good – and will help his transition back to work go more smoothly.

Many companies implement return-to-work (RTW) programs to help estranged employees find their footing back on company turf. Prudential's annual study of employee benefits revealed that 45% of plan sponsors say they are "providing accommodations to assist employees in returning to work following a leave of absence, serious illness, or disability." Significant touch points of a return to work program include the following:

• Create a healthy, productive work environment designed to accommodate the returning worker, particularly if he has special needs due to a disability. Equip his work area with whatever ergonomic or other desk, chair, and accommodations are necessary to ensure that he does not suffer strain or risk of re-injury.
• According to Job Accommodation Network, the average cost of assistive technology accommodations is less than $500. It's a small investment to make the returning employee more comfortable, but more importantly the gesture itself can be emotionally reassuring to make him feel wanted and needed – a key ingredient to re-engagement.
• Write a clear job description to ensure it accurately reflects what the employee is able to do and what is expected of him.
• Set clear expectations of time frames. For example, the employee may want to start out with a part-time schedule. Flexibility is important, but be clear about how many hours you expect him to work each week, and agree on how many weeks before the employee should be up to full speed.
• Check in frequently to see if the returned employee is meeting the benchmarks agreed upon in his written plan. Note that he may be more willing to speak frankly about setbacks and misgivings with someone from HR rather than his direct supervisor.

Bear in mind that, according to a Dale Carnegie white paper, part-time workers are more likely to be disengaged (29%) than full-time employees. Whether returning to a full-time position or even a part-time schedule, don't assume that it's business as usual for formerly displaced employees. The more effort you put into welcoming them back into the fold, the more quickly they will become productive again.

The Loop Archives

Open All | Close All

Health Care Reform
Training & Leadership Development
Performance Management
Attraction & Retention

Request More Info


RSS Subscribe via RSS

Join Our Newsletter

Thank you for subscribing.