If the person comes back with a new outlook, it may be they find
they can’t go back to what they were doing before their departure.
“You may need to have a career development discussion to find
the right place for them,” said Sanders. “In this scenario, you’re getting
closer to helping that person feel more fulfilled – which is
the heart of employee engagement. That’s being a great workplace:
helping your people grow and evolve.”
Another possibility is the person returns and goes back into
the role they played before they left, only this time they have 12
months of energy reserves to hit the ground running.
Finally, there’s the chance that you get really used to the person’s
absence and have a much clearer picture of the sort of performance
management required for their return and the expectations you
now have of success in their role.
“In my case, after close to a decade in senior-level management
roles, I was ready for a different challenge,” said Sanders. “My trip
helped bring me clarity on what that challenge could be. Now that
I’m back, I’m in a completely different position – one where I get
to consult face-to-face with clients again. The transition was easy
since I was already removed from my old responsibilities.”
TRANSITION PLANS ARE THE KEY TO SUCCESS
About 18 months before her planned departure date, Sanders
spoke with her partners at Habanero about the as-yet-unused sabbatical
clause in their partnership agreement. The team’s reaction
was positive. They were genuinely supportive and happy for her.
At the time, Sanders was vice-president and had previously
served as director of employee experience. During her tenure,
Habanero became nationally recognized for its workplace culture
and approach to people.
“We came up with a transition plan where I could move permanently
out of my VP role, split my accountabilities across a few
people who were keen to take on different responsibilities and
then defined what a temporary, six-month, pre-trip role would
look like,” said Sanders.
“We mostly followed the same formula as we currently use
when planning for a parental leave or long-term disability leave, so
in some regards this was very much business as usual,” said Steven
Fitzgerald, president of Habanero.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY: AUTHENTICITY
The key to providing long-term leaves for employees is authenticity.
Employers have to be upfront with people who are looking for
extended time away from the office, especially in terms of their
career prospects with the organization. At the same time, employees
need to be open to changes in their role upon their return. It’s
a two-way relationship that has a lot of potential to benefit both
parties if everyone understands each other.
Similarly, organizations can’t fear long-term leaves as a stepping
stone to someone leaving the company. Often, time away
reinforces existing feelings and gives people the space to think
about what they really want outside of work. Employers who give
people the ability to be open about their goals inside and outside
of the office will see the return in the form of deeper engagement
with the broader organization.
There are a growing number of companies looking beyond how
to give people the best work lives possible. Instead, these employers
are thinking about ways to help employees feel fulfilled in all
aspects of their lives.
In Sanders’ case, she’s returned with renewed energy and moved
back into an area of the organization that’s more aligned with
where she wants to spend time. This kind of reset likely wouldn’t
have happened as smoothly without time away for her to think
about where the next stage of her career would go.
“A well-timed long-term leave might be the best thing someone
can do for their career and wellbeing,” said Sanders. n
“YOU’RE GETTING CLOSER TO HELPING THAT PERSON FEEL
MORE FULFILLED – WHICH IS THE HEART OF EMPLOYEE
ENGAGEMENT. THAT’S BEING A GREAT WORKPLACE:
HELPING YOUR PEOPLE GROW AND EVOLVE.”
– CATERINA SANDERS, HABANERO GROUP
30 ❚ NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL