🙇 Navigating stigma around extended leaves of absence

Asking for a leave of absence is in itself anxiety-inducing. Why?

Well, there’s a pronounced stigma around asking for an extended leave of absence, oftentimes regardless of the reason – whether it be to take care of yourself and your mental health, or a cherished person in your life who needs you.

Sometimes hard-working colleagues who take extended leave are assumed to be flaky or uncommitted – but is that really true?

📈 Some pithy stats

  • 77% of mothers have reported a negative or discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or return to work
  • 80% of workers with a mental health condition report that shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment, also making them feel compelled to hide their condition from colleagues

☝️ So how can you help as a manager?
If a teammate is forthcoming with the specific reason for their LOA, recognize and thank them for their bravery in disclosing it. Even better, encourage and normalize taking leave as needed by letting your team know that their own well-being takes precedence over any project they’re working on.

Recognize that it usually takes several weeks or even months to get back into work mode after an extended leave.

📺 Watch this

Summoning up the courage to ask for an LOA when it comes to mental health or other personal problems can be incredibly difficult, and even demoralizing for some. Plus, the path to recovery isn’t linear: watch Dave’s story to better understand why.

☝️ Here are some practical pointers to ease the transition:
✅ Assess if your colleague needs any special accommodations before their first day back, e.g. desk or screen adjustments, a place to pump breastmilk and store it, adjusted hours, etc.

✅ Encourage your teammate to use any accrued PTO days during the first month or two back, even taking one day off each week, if possible. Shorter weeks make the transition less painful.

✅ If a temp was handling work in their absence, coordinate a handover period of at least a week to give your teammate enough time to get back up to speed on what’s gone on while they were away.

✅ If budgets allow, offer return-to-work coaching with external coaches. For longer leaves, you may even want to offer coaching before, during and after the leave period.

✅ Check-in every week or so for the first couple of months to assess how things are going. Ask open questions and assess nonverbal cues, too. Do they seem overwhelmed? Withdrawn? Scattered?

✅ Be proactive in offering solutions to help, like scaling back hours and days worked during the transition.

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The bottom line?

You can ease the transition back to work for your colleague by taking preemptive steps to assess whether they’ll need special accommodations their first day back, checking in to see how they’re doing, and offering solutions that’s suited to them.

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🤗 An uplifting read

Need some inspiration? Click here to read the story of a CEO whose exemplary response to a coworker’s email about needing a mental health day raised the bar on how leave should be perceived and received at work.

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