How to Prepare for an Employee’s Return to Work

Have you considered how people can be affected by any kind of return to work? Learn about it and much more in this blog!

Employee Experience
Work environment

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Are you prepared? “So-and-so” is returning to work next week,…what do you need to do to make the transition a successful one?

Although an employee’s return to work should be handled case-by-case depending on why he/she has left in the first place, there are some standard preparations that can help ease the process. And if you are reading this right now, you have already taken the critical first step: being aware that a plan must be made.

Returning to work from…?

An absence from work could be due to a variety of things, and those things are not necessarily negative. They can range from extended vacations to sabbatical leave, or from maternity leave to sick leave. It could even be an employee who left to pursue another career opportunity but decided to come back.

Whatever the case, the reasoning behind the absence will shed light on the severity and length in order for you to better prepare for your employee’s return to work.

Keep in touch

When possible, and with the permission of the person away, try to maintain a certain level of communication. Of course, if the person is on a month vacation, keeping in touch may not be possible or even required as the purpose of their leave is to completely detach, turn off their emails and recharge!

However, some employees on sick or maternity leave may actually enjoy chatting with co-workers once in a while or being kept up-to-date with the events unfolding in the organization. This does not mean discussing details of their own work, asking favours or revealing issues that can potentially cause them stress, but more for the purpose of maintaining a rapport and hearing about progress or their new life chapter.

Again, remember that not everyone will want to catch up before their return to work, so make sure the feeling is mutual.

Internal communication

It is important that co-workers be notified of an employee’s return to work in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page as far as planning and how to welcome this person back. Discuss how people are feeling about the return, if they have any questions or concerns, and above all, keep positive!

Try to maintain a working environment that is welcoming and non-threatening for the person returning. When greeting someone who’s returning from something more serious, recommend that co-workers be supportive without bombarding them with questions or over-exaggerating their sympathy.

Return to work after vacay

Those returning to work after a 3-4 week vacation will likely need less preparations on your part, yet you will still need to be mindful of a few things.

Firstly, understand that the first day back will likely involve a few hours of going through unanswered emails and being put up to speed with projects. So try not to schedule important client meetings or assign them grueling tasks that first morning, or even  that first day.

Secondly, recall if there were major events that occurred in the organization during their absence.

  • Was that big sales prospect closed?
  • Did the department embark on a new project?
  • Did someone leave?
  • Is there a new employee?

A lot can happen in a month, so make sure you or someone qualified can go through these changes with the person returning.

Return to work from sick leave

When an employee is returning to work after sick leave, there are more things to consider in order to make their transition a smooth one. Unlike vacation or sabbatical, this employee has taken a leave of absence due to suffering from something physical, mental and/or emotional, and therefore needs time to recover before their return to work.

As an employer, you need to make a plan that involves understanding, flexibility, and respect of privacy. You (or someone qualified) should accompany this person during their first day or week back, reacquainting them with their work environment, updating them on past and current events and anything that was adjusted to meet their needs. Remember that these individuals may not be as animated or involved during their first days back, and to adapt your plan according to their level of motivation and energy.

Although a certain level of disengagement during this transition may be expected, make sure you are aware of the possibility of presenteeism if it persists.

If you don’t have the right resources to provide the support and/or counseling they need, make sure you can offer them a safe place, such as an employee assistance program, to evacuate any stress or concerns they might have.

Career-hood to motherhood, and back again

Unlike sick leave, an employee on maternity leave is absent due to something a lot more positive and rewarding: being a parent. Yet, as in sick leave, their return to work still requires flexibility, understanding and time to be reintegrated.

What you need to understand as an employer is that for the last year, this person’s primary role has been centered on the upbringing, nurturing and being the source of security for their child. Therefore you need to be aware and accept that this employee may carry a certain level of guilt and concern with them during the transition back to work.

Keep in mind that they may need more work-life balance and to remain open, especially in the first few months, to certain accommodations that meet these needs, for instance, flexible hours and/or working from home.

Unlike some people returning from sick leave, these employees may be very open to talking to their co-workers about their experience; showing pictures of their baby, discussing milestones, the ups and downs of being a parent. This new life chapter is likely to be cherished and so they will probably want to share certain aspects of it with others. So be patient and allow some time for them to talk about motherhood…or fatherhood. It’s what they’ve known for the past 12 months.

Whether it be sick leave or maternity leave, be attentive to this emotional transition. There will be less possibility of resentment and more opportunity for motivation and willingness to get up and go to work knowing that their needs have been considered.

Atman: A common denominator for all return to work plans

You’re probably saying “this is all fine and dandy but where does that leave me? How can Atman help?”. Well, all the suggestions for a better return to work are more effective when you understand how a person is built. Knowing their natural reflexes, strengths, their motivations and resistance to stress will undoubtedly help you build a specific transition plan unique to the person’s needs.

For example, if you know right off the bat that the person returning to work is naturally less at ease with change, sensitive to work ambiance and has the tendency to take things more personally, then you may want to put more focus on:

  • making sure to communicate and explain any changes during his absence in a way that won’t make him feel insecure.
  • allowing him more time to absorb these changes and to ask his questions.
  • providing him specific reasoning behind these changes.
  • if possible, emphasizing that these changes did not occur because of something he did wrong and help him realize that it’s for the greater good of the organization, and so on…

If the person has a personality that is very motivated by results, competition, risk-taking and challenges, then he/she might not want you to wait too long before assigning him/her stimulating projects with quantifiable measures and objectives.

Being able to detect the different personalities of your returning workforce is essential, no matter the reason for their departure in the first place. This is the key step for all transition planning.

Whether an employee is returning to work from vacation, sick leave or maternity leave, establish a plan, have someone available to accompany them on their first day(s), communicate with others of their return, and most importantly, remain flexible, supportive and aware of their personality traits in order to build a smooth and steady transition. Understand that they may need more time to readjust, and provide them with additional support options should there be the need. You can do this! Let Atman help you get to know what the employee returning needs!

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