Most folks probably didn’t notice, but this week PGA golfer, Tiger Woods returned to the tour after a lengthy absence due to an injury to his back. People either love or hate Tiger Woods. I love him. Yeah, yeah, I know what he did, I don’t like that at all. I love watching the greatest athletes of my generation perform, and he’s one of those. I can separate his personal life from his professional life, and appreciate the skill it takes to perform at the highest level.
In HR we have people go out on leave all the time. Traditional HR thought is when an employee is out on leave (FMLA) you shouldn’t talk to them, communicate with them (unless to just get updates regarding the leave), practically not even acknowledge they’re alive! I’ve seen HR pros tell their hiring managers to have absolutely no contact with an employee who is out on leave, if they contact you, have them contact us in HR. I think this is crazy! We miss great opportunities to build loyalty with our employees, and opportunities for our leadership to be empathetic.
Some of this has to do with why a person went out on leave, and HR’s belief that an employee might be gaming the system to try and get something more than just time off needed for whatever problems we have. We add into it this belief that we have to treat everyone the same, and medical leave’s of absence become a nightmare for employees.
Our reality is, most employees just want to get better and return to work as soon as possible. Another reality is that most HR Pros don’t actually believe this. This is where the conflict comes in, and we begin to make it very difficult for our employees to be off. I never believe in the theory we should treat everyone the same. You will have some employees in your HR career who don’t want to work, and want to find some way for your company to pay them to sit at home. That’s real life. But we can’t start believing that is everyone of our employees, it’s not!
HR should encourage hiring managers to keep frequent contact with employees out on leave. Let them know we care about them, we miss them, we can’t wait to have them back. This type of communication will allow you to plan for their return, keep them engaged with your organization and the rest of their coworkers. HR needs to firmly believe our employees are innocent until proven guilty when out on leave. To believe each and everyone of our coworkers can’t wait to get healthy and return to work, because that is actual reality.
It’s tough, I know, I’ve been there as well, and gotten taken advantage of. But our employees deserve better from us. They deserve empathy and compassion. They deserve the same thing you would want if you had to go out on leave.