A few weeks ago, my co-worker’s son, a lineman for the junior varsity football squad came home excited to tell his family that he might get to start at the upcoming Friday night game and play with the varsity squad. This moment of excitement and enthusiasm came as a result of the star offensive linemen suffering an injury. That’s never the scenario you wish this opportunity to occur, but I appreciate his eagerness to step up when the team needed him.

This is similar to how a leave of absence at any business can play out. You have an experienced team member that is going out on leave and may not be back for 6 to 12 weeks. If the leave is unexpected, you may not have had time to bring on an equally qualified temporary employee or transition workloads across the organization.

In situations of protected leaves, such as FMLA, you are required to bring the employee back at the same level and similar position as they left, but that does not mean that you can’t offer others a chance to learn and grow at the same time.

Different Approaches

One approach would be to present a less experienced employee with a stretch assignment and have them take on new tasks to see if they step up when the challenge arises. Scope out projects that need to be completed and set clear expectations with the employee on what needs to be accomplished and how success will impact their career. The benefits for both you and the employee will be far reaching.  Based on their performance, in the future you might be able to offer a promotion or additional high-profile assignments and the employee’s job satisfaction and engagement will likely grow as you are getting the business needs met during the leave. This approach also highlights to other employees that growth and training opportunities exist within the company.

Should you not have a team member already on your team to fill in, the leave might be a great opportunity to add a new, less experienced employee, either on a temporary basis or as a regular employee.  You can establish a training program that could be used throughout the organization and build a culture that leverages and develops less expensive talent as the company grows. This can also increase opportunities for existing team members to mentor and/or be managers.  Bringing in a new employee during the leave also provides an opportunity to test if your team can accommodate more junior level talent as you grow and scale.

Leave laws were established to give workers throughout the US an opportunity for work life balance when family and medical situations occur. From maternity leave to caring for a sick family member, there are many reasons employees may need the time away. Looking at these leaves as a burden on the company only limits your opportunities. Leaves can be a great time for experimenting with pre-conceived notions about the talent requirements for your team.

“There are different approaches you can take when you have an employee on leave and want to use the time to grow and strengthen your team.”