Keep in touch
The keep-in-touch approach recommends that during periods of long or regular intermittent absence you continue to engage team members through regular calls, writing, inviting and ensuring that they share company news, important information and team updates.
You may think that as they are not at work you don’t need to invest time in them – after all you will not see a return on that in-vestment in the short term – or that you should leave them in peace and provide them with a well-intentioned break from work. However, consider how it might feel if you were absent for a period, whether planned or unexpectedly, and no one from work made contact with you. You may feel isolated, forgotten or unimportant. The intent with keep in touch is to promote the opposite feelings so that those employees who are absent still feel included as part of the team, and an important member of it. This will be even more important in helping them to resettle on their return.
As already mentioned, keep-in-touch (KIT) days are typically used by employees whilst an employee is absent on maternity leave. However, there can be a great many reasons why KIT days might be beneficial to others. This tool sits under the heading of life changes. As well as becoming a new parent (connecting KIT to maternity, paternity and adoption leave) we now could consider the addition of grandparent leave, bereavement, a period of long-term illness, or several periods of shorter-term absence for a known and managed condition. Employees on secondment or working overseas for extended periods might also be considered for the KIT approach.
The timing for a KIT day will depend on the reason for absence, and on any important triggers or events back in the business.
This a low-resource initiative. It takes only your time, so the direct cost of keeping in touch is negligible.
Absent employees should continue to feel engaged during their time away from work – they should not be made to feel isolated, or that those back at the workplace have forgotten them or don’t care. KIT days provide the mechanism for that engagement to continue during absence, and act as a reminder to stay inclusive.
- When a person takes longer-term leave from your business, immediately check in with them about your intention to keep in touch and agree the best methodology (call, e-mail, visits, etc) and confirm their contact details.
- Agree your approach to keep in touch – it is better that the employee knows what to expect from you during their absence, and what their own responsibilities are with regards to maintaining contact. Managing expectations means that the employee is more likely to have a positive reaction to your KIT plans, rather than feeling concerned that you are not allowing them the space that they need.
- Note down any key trigger points – it might be useful to diarize them – to keep in touch with your employee. For example, after important company meetings, team events, announcements. Alternatively they may be driven by the employees’ issues – eg after an important appointment, a funeral or having a baby.
- Ensure that you make regular contact, respond to the triggers identified and remain inclusive in your communications ap-proach. E-mail minutes of important meetings and, if it is appropriate, continue to invite your absent employee to major events and social activities. They can, of course, choose whether to attend, but the simple act of extending the invitation is likely to foster engagement.
Hints and tips
- Under maternity and adoption it is entirely voluntary to attend work for a KIT day, but an employee can work up to 10 KIT days during their leave. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) offers guidelines about KIT days during maternity leave.
- Use this approach in conjunction with your leave and absence policies.
- There is a fine line between keeping engaged and hassling people back to work. It is best to keep the KIT days separate to any formal processes for managing an employee’s absence.
- When you are wondering about whether you should keep in touch, consider how you might like to be treated. Being left alone might feel like being ignored, and so by making occasional contact you not only help to keep the employee in-volved and help them be ready to return at the right time, you also show a human interest in your team member, demonstrating that they are not forgotten, they are missed, and they are still valuable to you and their colleagues.
Gathering employee feedback will be the most effective form of evaluation for KIT days. Whilst you can consider a simple metric (eg how many KIT days were utilized during an absence period) this will only give you a quantitative evaluation. Asking for qualita-tive feedback will be more useful in assessing the value of KIT days, and in giving guidance about how to improve your approach to them.