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Returning to Work After a Leave of Absence: Tips for Employees and Employers

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees may take unpaid, job-protected leave for qualified family and medical reasons. Returning to work after this leave of absence is a different process for every professional. Whether it's maternity leave, sick leave or taking time off to care for a loved one, navigating this transition period can be tricky. Here are some tips to help both employees and employers.

A clipboard with a paper titled paid family leave.

For employers and managers:

  1. Prepare a status document. Don't leave your employees guessing about what's changed since they've been out. Prepare a status document covering key clients and projects, as well as any internal changes to policies or procedures, so returning employees can get up to speed quickly. Let clients know of an employee's return date so they will be ready to include your employee on project communications.
  2. Let your employees know you're happy they're back. One "return-to-work" fear employees may face is that their absence may have proven how "replaceable" they are. The thinking goes something like this: "If the office functioned just fine while I was gone, will anyone feel I still matter to the team?" You can relieve employees' concerns by letting them know you're glad they're back through simple gestures like flowers on their desk or bringing in breakfast treats the day of their return.
  3. Give them time. Employees may have mixed feelings about their return. They may be excited to get back to their old work routine but also feel anxious about fitting back into the office culture. Give your employee a grace period to re-acclimate and schedule a 30-day check-in meeting to address any concerns or questions.

As a returning employee:

  1. Schedule your return for midweek. If possible, return to work on a Wednesday. You'll have a shorter workweek, which can help ease the transition back into the office. Avoid the temptation to fully schedule your day with meetings. Set aside time to review your projects, check and sort through email and address any immediate needs in the office.
  2. Try "single-tasking." At times, it can be difficult to feel fully present upon returning from a leave of absence. Instead of multitasking, where you are jumping from one call to another, try blocking time for a single task. To the best of your ability, focus exclusively on that task during that period. You may also benefit from following the one touch rule: If a task will take 10 minutes or less, do it immediately rather than saving it for later. Prompt action prevents you from being distracted throughout the day.
  3. Ask about flextime or remote work. Returning to work after an absence can feel like a significant lifestyle adjustment. If you are struggling with being fully back in the office, one option could be a more flexible work schedule. Talk to your supervisor about remote work or flexible hours. Working from home one day per week for the first month, for example, could help ease the transition back.

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