How to cover for your employee absence – best practices

There are many options for covering maternity, paternity or sick leave. What you need to do will depend on the employee’s job, the length of leave, other people’s responsibilities and the demands of the workplace and also the size and resources of your organisation. In many cases your returning employee has the right to return to the job they were doing before the leave. The plans for leave cover should reflect the temporary nature of the leave.

Here are the 3 most common cover options that you have:

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Temporary worker

This is a good option:

  • when the role is not so complicated and the training / ramp up won’t take too long
  • when there is a possibility to outsource some of the simpler team tasks, so the team members can do more advanced work

Such option ensures the coverage in your team and gives you a possible candidate for longer employment, if the need occurs. The drawback of this solution is that you need invest in training and that it may become problematic if an employee prolongs their leave. Depending on local laws you may then need to hire several temporary workers. When hiring your back up make sure that your job description is clear and that you underline that the job is fixed term for the duration of your employee’s leave.

Rotation from within the business

Internal rotation can be a great option when the role is attractive to other employees and gives them opportunity to develop certain skills. It can work if the “sending” team has extra capacity and / or can employ temporary worker for that time of your employee leave.

Big benefit of that option is that it creates an opportunity for talent growth & development and there are no issues at the moment when your employee is back.

The drawback of that solution is that the person, who is a doing a rotation may not be interested in coming back to the previous role and become demotivated if there won’t be opportunities for them in a hosting team. From that reason it is good to always set clear expectations about the length of the rotation and about what will happen once it comes to an end.

When hiring back ups you also need to make sure that there is a smooth transition. To minimize disruption to the business:

    • Prepare up-to-date person and job specifications by sitting down with the employee going on leave and talking through their current role and responsibilities.
    • Try to arrange a day’s overlap between the start of the leave and the temp’s start date, so the employee going on leave can show them how they work.

No backup

No backup means that you are simply not hiring anyone and instead distributing the responsibilities among other team members. Very often this is the only option with more senior roles when the training  / ramp up period won’t pay off for having an extra person hired.

On the plus side this option doesn’t require any hiring nor training effort and it may be both a good prioritization exercise for the team, and an opportunity for career development. The situation also becomes easy when when the person is back from leave.

However, this option also comes with a big stretch for the team. Some tasks / projects will need to be dropped or delivered with lower quality and there is also a risk of lowering team’s morale, well-being and job satisfaction.

You can mitigate some of these negative effects by taking 2 following actions.

  • Call out a team working session where you prioritize all the initiatives, looking at what can be postponed, automated, simplified or outsourced, so you are able to deal with the workload despite having less people.
  • Flag any potential risks or targets that won’t be met to upper management & stakeholders, so the to expectations are clear and solutions to mitigate can be found.