Employees returning to their jobs after a long absence can face a series of challenges that require good management. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this an increasingly common situation for businesses.

The Problem

During a temporary transfer, furlough, family or medical leave, or sabbatical, employees lose touch with changes in the office and in fellow employees’ lives. New relationships and work dynamics have been formed in their absence.

Managers need to regulate the pace of the employee’s transition to avoid upsetting the office equilibrium while helping the returning staff member feel part of the team again.

Solutions To Consider

An e-mail- or Web-based company newsletter or blog is often a simple solution. In this electronic publication, which the absent worker can choose to read or not, you can offer periodic updates about customers, team members, projects and changes at the company. With current employees permission, you might even share news of personal developments, such as who’s having a birthday, who’s expecting a baby and and who’s heading back to grad school for an advanced degree.

If regularly creating a newsletter or blog isn’t feasible, ask managers to send a note about what’s been happening in the company about a week before the expected return. Doing so will help the absent staffer feel less out of the loop when he or she comes back. On the day of the return, schedule catch-up meetings with managers and colleagues. If possible, arrange a department or team lunch so the person can let everyone know what’s been going on in his or her life.

You may have to be patient. It takes time for returning employees to find their place and get back up to speed. Typically, their office social skills are bit rusty, and they may be unaware of new customers’ needs or how a recently hired manager or co-worker likes to do things.

When assigning their first projects, partner a returning employee with an experienced colleague so he or she has someone to to ask for help or general feedback.

A More Harmonious Workplace

In the end, handling returning employees in a sensitive manner will pay off in increased office harmony — and ultimately, stronger productivity.