6 ways to help support an employee’s return after a leave

Casually dressed, young Black couple review bills together at their kitchen table with an open laptop

For employees that need to take time away from work, the return-to-work experience can be just as important as the leave itself. 

Most of us have had colleagues that needed time away from work to recover from an injury or surgery, to care for a family member, or to meet another health-related need. Many of us may also be familiar with anxiously awaiting that colleague’s return – whether it’s to collaborate on projects again, or maybe even lighten the workload. 

The need for an effective transition is supported by research by the Voya team. In interviews with 30 employees who had recently experienced a leave,1 they uncovered that not knowing what to expect when they returned to the office was a significant stressor.

Plus, eliminating uncertainty around the return to work could improve their overall perception of the experience, as well as satisfaction with their employer. With that in mind, here are six suggestions to help employers provide support during a return.

1. Set reasonable expectations

Manager support is critical to return to work – as well as understanding and setting an expectation that the employee will need time to adjust. It’s also important to communicate that expectation with teammates and/or other departments as the employee returns.

2. Check on fitness-for-duty requirements

Depending on the many factors including the reason for the leave, established expectations at time of leave and requirements of the employer, a fitness for duty form may be required before returning to work – particularly for roles involving liability and risk (e.g., operating heavy machinery).

Managers should check if this requirement was established and communicate with the employee about any needed documentation ahead of their return. (Note: Fitness for duty cannot be requested under FMLA unless it was established during the request for leave process/approval process.)

3. Meet one-on-one to create a transition plan

On that first day back at work, the employee and their manager or HR leader should meet to map out what the transition will look like – based on how the employee is feeling and what they’re capable of.

Managers can also help get employees up to speed on what they missed, including organizational changes or required corporate trainings. And they can mutually agree upon a work transition plan that works for everyone.

4. Address any accommodations that may be needed

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the employee’s leave, there may be accommodations the employer is required to meet. For example, if an employee has back surgery, they may require an accommodation like a sit-stand workstation.

Managers should refer to their employer handbook for guidance and apply this uniformly to all employees across the company. In addition, managers should be aware of who to contact for more information related to accommodations within their organization.

5. Ensure the employee’s pay and benefits are properly reinstated

Administrative details – such as reminding the employee to adjust their out-of-office message or restart their 401(k) contributions – should also be checked as the employee returns to work.

Ensuring pay and benefits are reinstated is a shared responsibility. Both the manager and employee may need to report the employee’s return to work to avoid payment delays. Plus, managers can help ensure a smooth transition by making sure any needed access is reinstated for the employee upon their return from leave.

6. Reconnect the employee with teammates, business partners

It’s also crucial for returning employees to reconnect with other team members and business partners across the organization. Managers can help facilitate this collaboration to assist the employee adjust to their return to work and help them feel valued throughout their transition.

Here are more tips about what employers need to know about employee leave.

Find out how Voya supports employers and employees throughout the leave process, or visit or contact your Voya representative to learn more.

Related Items

  1. Voya Financial Proprietary Research conducted in October 2020; included 30 in depth interviews with individuals who had recently returned to work after experiencing a leave.

Voya Leave Management services are provided in part by Disability Reinsurance Management Services, Inc.

Disability Income Insurance is issued and underwritten by ReliaStar Life Insurance Company (Minneapolis, MN) and ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York (Woodbury, NY). Within the State of New York, only ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York is admitted, and its products issued. Both are members of the Voya® family of companies. Voya Employee Benefits is a division of both companies. Product availability and specific provisions may vary by state.