Getting Employees Back in the Loop

Employees returning to their jobs after a long absence can face a series of challenges that require good management. In the end, handling returning employees in a sensitive manner will pay off in increased office harmony - and ultimately, higher productivity. Here's how to handle the situation.

Problem: During a temporary transfer, maternity leave or sabbatical, employees lose touch with changes in the office and in fellow employees' lives. New relationships and work dynamics have been formed. The successful manager needs to regulate the pace of the employee's transition to avoid upsetting the office equilibrium, yet quickly make the returning staff member feel part of the team again.

Solution: While employees are gone, send periodic updates about customers, team members, projects and changes at the company. Keep absentee employees up to speed on personal developments, such as who is having a baby, a birthday, and who is going back to graduate school. This can easily be done by e-mail.

If regular updates aren't possible, about a week before the expected return, send a note about what's been happening. This helps the absent staff member feel part of the loop. 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, they're rusty in office politics, unaware of new customers' needs, and unsure of how key players operate.

When assigning their first projects, hook the employees up with experienced colleagues so they have someone to turn to for help.

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