Listening to Your Employees: How Do You Take Advantage of Knowledge When An Employee is Out?

August 16, 2018

I used to work with an organization who required their employees to take a two-month sabbatical PAID – every 3 years. No, seriously. You might think either “How can I get an application?” or simply “Why would they waste that money?” Think about it, though. From the employee perspective, they come back rested and ready to hit the ground running. This would certainly have to be seen as a perk, so it builds loyalty. From the employer’s perspective, it is an investment in more ways than just having to pay for a salary and benefits for no product in return. First, it puts the employees into a position of having to ensure they share their knowledge and do not become a point of risk if they decide to leave the organization. How many times have you experienced ‘that person’ just gave their two-week notice and they are taking two weeks of vacation? In the sabbatical situation, that person is coming back, so naturally, they are going to want things to be in the same tip-top shape they left them in, so they are invested in putting the right resources and knowledge in place. While they are out, the person(s) stepping into their shoes gives the organization a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes all of us are unable to see the forest for the trees. The potential new ideas shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but an opportunity. One last opportunity it provides is to gives others in the company a chance to see other jobs and assess possible growth options for their own career path.

I’m not saying you should institute this sabbatical idea (but maybe send me an application if you do). Use the concepts for an employee’s planned or unforeseen absence as an opportunity. Those are obviously two different scenarios, so the actions will fluctuate. First, take a look at processes which may or may not be in place for when an employee reports a future absence need. At minimum, this would be a good time to confirm their job description is accurate. How many different laws out there are circling around the ‘essential functions of the job’? I’d be willing to wager that there are lawsuits out there that were a result of what the JD said and what the employee actually did were two different things. There’s nothing worse than realizing that ALL of the job descriptions in your entire organization are outdated. Next, is there an identified process to transfer knowledge? Assuming that a colleague or their supervisor is fully informed of how to do their tasks is simply unrealistic. They know the task happens, but updates, short cuts, schedules, etc. may be a mystery to everybody else.

Let’s talk about the data. What kind of report options do you have? As sure as the day is long, you’re paying for your reports, so are you using them beyond printing them off and sending them up the ladder? This data can assist you in designing program or policy changes that make a real impact to the employees and the organization. If you put benefit dollars toward things that matter most to your population, then those dollars are working for you, not simply being spent. Maybe you have a generous maternity program and very limited elder care options. Yet your absence data shows the majority of the absences for the employees own condition are for males and females over 45 for musculoskeletal issues and the absences for care of a family member are for a parent, then you’re paying for benefits that are essentially unused. This results in wasted dollars and leaves employees feeling you are not interested in the real-life issues they are faced with each