At Alan, we have over 550 employees today. Employees regularly return from maternity, paternity or parental leave, or from sabbatical or long-term sick leave.
Returning to work after an extended absence can be daunting for a number of reasons. Indeed, extended leave is often due to a change in personal circumstances to which the employee has to adapt. What's more, in a company like Alan, everything changes very quickly. Being away for several weeks or months can make you feel like you've missed a lot, or even like you've lost your place in a brand-new organization.
However, we are convinced that a prolonged absence should not be taken as a risk. To facilitate the return of these employees after long-term leave, we have set up a re-boarding process similar to the integration process for new arrivals.
Want to know how we do it? We'll tell you all about it.
Note: we sometimes refer to employees returning to work after long leave as "reintegrating" employees.
Are your leave policies sufficiently attractive and adapted to your employees' needs? Let's put it this way: at Alan, the average age of our employees is 30, and many Alaners are starting or growing their families at this point in their lives. To meet their needs, we have adopted appropriate maternity and paternity leave policies:
We offer an extra month's paid maternity leave and an extra two weeks' paid paternity leave.
Any Alaner with a child under the age of three is entitled to take parental leave, regardless of seniority, whereas the usual practice is to reserve this right for those with at least one year's seniority.
Finally, thanks to our flexible leave policy, every Alaner is free to take extra time off if he or she feels the need.
At Alan, employees taking long-term leave are encouraged to prepare a detailed handover document. The aim? To give visibility to the projects in which he or she is involved, and to indicate for each of them the person who will take over in his or her absence. Ideally, to facilitate the employee's reintegration on his return, this document serves as a reference and is regularly updated by his colleagues in his absence.
💡 Practical tip: at Alan, our organization is based on the principle of distributed responsibility. To avoid one person taking on all the absent person's tasks, we distribute them among a larger group of people who have the time and skills to manage them.
In cases where extended leave can be anticipated (which is unfortunately not always the case for long-term sick leave), departure and return can seem less daunting when the employee has felt supported in preparing for departure and handover. It may seem trivial, but employees who leave with a positive impression feel more motivated to return to work. In practical terms, here's what we do at Alan:
Expressing support for the employee: Beyond the legal obligation to allow employees to attend medical appointments in the case of maternity or paternity leave, showing empathy to understand how they are feeling can make a big difference.
Discuss the employee's long-term interests before he or she leaves: giving the employee space to express his or her interests and desires for his or her return helps to better anticipate the reintegration process and boost motivation.
Agree on the frequency (or otherwise) of contact during leave: "Do you want to keep in touch with your team and the company during your leave? If so, what would be the ideal pace?" Some people prefer to keep in touch with their team to avoid the "back from vacation" feeling, while others prefer to pause all bridges with work to concentrate on the reason for their absence(convalescence, baby, etc.).
Anticipating the employee's return is essential. At Alan, the first step is to arrange a call with the employee about a month before his or her return to check in and take stock.
Here are the tips we use at Alan to make this call the best it can be:
Show empathy: Take the time to ask your colleague how he or she is feeling, what are his or her impressions of returning to work, what excites him or her most and what worries him or her most?
Ask: Be attentive to the challenges the employee is facing so you can anticipate the adjustments needed to deal with them. Discuss possible solutions together.
Inform: Take stock of key developments and changes concerning the company, the team or the role of the employee returning to work.
Engage and consult: Discuss potential projects he could work on during his integration period, which would form the basis of his 6-week objectives.
Support: Decide together who will be part of the "return team" to support the employee during his or her integration.
At Alan, our organization is based on the principle of distributed responsibility (yes, we've said it before, but it's important). We are convinced that adopting this principle of collective support is a key success factor for rapid, smooth and, above all, enjoyable reintegration. So, for each employee's return, we set up a return team. Here's how we structure it:
Re-Onboarding Buddy: We designate a reinboarding buddy who has a similar role to that of the reinstated employee, helping him or her to get back into the job.
MumBuddy & DadBuddy (for parents): We set up a buddy system with other Alaners parents to help the new parent find their work-life balance.
Key Stakeholders: We also identify key players for each part of the business with whom the employee can discuss his or her return, to better understand the changes that occurred during the absence and the company's current priorities.
Senior Alaner: We systematically offer a coffee with a senior leader, which helps many employees feel valued again and aligned with the company's vision.
All newcomers to Alan have a "welcome board" on Notion which brings together all the information they need to familiarize themselves with the culture, working methods, strategy and their role. The reintegration chart is almost identical, a personalized guide that gathers relevant information to bring you up to speed.
At Alan's, we use Notion, a very efficient tool for gathering information and creating this Reonboarding Board. Alternatively, a shared folder containing important documents will also do the trick! Here's an example:
Just as the first day at the company sets the tone for the newcomer's future career, the way in which the employee experiences his or her first day after extended leave will have a major impact on the rest of his or her experience. That's why it's so important to give them a warm welcome on their first day. At Alan, we apply these precepts:
Organize a welcome call or meeting: As with a newcomer, we ensure that the returning employee has a briefing with his or her coach on the first day, followed by regular discussions over the following weeks.
Send a company-wide message announcing the employee's return: How do you introduce newcomers to the company? A Slack message, an e-mail, etc.? Well, we do the same for employees returning from leave, so that all Alaners know they're back and can welcome them back.
Share the reintegration chart and agree on 6-week objectives: We help the returning employee to set clear, measurable and realistic objectives for the first 6 weeks of reintegration. The goal? To help him stay focused, not feel overwhelmed and have a sense of accomplishment each week. Note that the expectations for the first two weeks are simply to get back on track.
Successful re-boarding boosts the commitment and motivation of the returning employee. However, care must be taken to avoid overworking employees who want to prove themselves again quickly or return to their pre-leave rhythm! At Alan, we encourage Alaners returning to work after extended leave to recognize their limits:
Finding your rhythm: We encourage them to focus first on finding their new work rhythm. It's a gradual process of completing tasks, gaining recognition, building confidence and taking on greater challenges.
Expressing themselves: We encourage them to openly communicate changes in their work/life balance that they hadn't thought of before (e.g. not feeling 100%, having a chronic illness, sleep problems, difficulty adapting to childcare, post-partum depression, etc.).
Reschedule performance reviews: At Alan, we have a bi-annual performance review process. However, we make sure that the appraisal is not scheduled too soon after the Alaner's return. If it is, we suggest that he or she be excluded from the next appraisal cycle. We then schedule a specific assessment a few months later so that he can receive feedback.
In most cases, the Alaner returning to work after an extended leave of absence finds himself in an unprecedented situation. Neither he nor his professional entourage can anticipate how he might feel. That's why we try to be as flexible as possible to adapt to each situation.
Adjustment period: Remember that the returning employee may have gone through life-changing events, and will need time to adjust to returning to work. In the case of childbirth, getting your child into a nursery or leaving him or her with a childminder may require a period of adjustment that affects your employee's availability. What's more, young children often fall ill during their first months of care. You'll need to give the new parent the opportunity to easily pick up their sick child and/or take days off to look after them.
Flexible working: Since most day-care centers close at 6 p.m., it's likely that the returning employee's day will be shorter... Some parents prefer to finish their working day early, or take a break from work to pick up their child, then log on again in the evening. Ask yourself if this is something your company can support.
Working remotely: When childcare isn't possible (sick nanny, nursery closed for the vacations, strike...), the returning employee may need to work remotely so that a family member can look after their child. Consider whether this is possible for the type of work they do.
Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding mothers will need time to express their milk, so allow them the space / privacy / time they need.
At Alan, we regularly challenge our methods and processes in order to improve them. As a result, we are very interested in feedback from employees who have returned to work after a long leave: what did they appreciate, what did they find lacking, and what were their difficulties?