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Reboarding is the process of an employee returning to the workplace after an extended absence, such as parental or sick leave. It's often a challenging time, as the employee needs to re-join their team and be updated on changes that have occured during their absence – often while simultaneously dealing with their health, being a new parent, etc.  
The most important thing is probably finding a balance between treating the reboarding as onboarding a new employee (in terms of support and resources available) and welcoming them back as if they had just simply returned from a holiday. Most employees want their previous accomplishments and position to be recognished, while receiving a flexible and welcoming return. Especially if they have been away due to illness or parental leave.

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How to prepare for a returning employee

The first step is to prepare a good reboarding plan that maps out the resources needed to reintegrate the returning employee – and the team who will welcome them back. 

Things to prepare:

 One of the first things to consider is how the team has been affected during the time the employee has been away. Have tasks and responsibilities been distributed differently? What happens to the employees who have taken on extra responsibility or completed other tasks; will they give it up easily? If not, it's important to make a plan to keep them motivated. Did you hire a temp or contractor? If they were skilled and a good fit for the organisation, it might be worth considering whether there's room for them in the team or even other departments. 
 If there have significant changes to tools or processes, you should prepare a plan for training or certification. It may also be a good idea if there have been new updates to old tools or technologies – or new certifications that are relevant or even require the employee to complete a course. 
 Remember to prepare the practical stuff too. Where will the employee be seated? Do they have an up-to-date computer and set-up? Do they have access to their account? Many larger companies have certain HR- and IT processes that need to be followed after an extended absence. It's somewhat tacky (and a waste of resources) to welcome an employee back, who can't access anything on their first day. 

… And how to prepare the employee to return

While it's important to have a solid plan for reboarding, it's equally important to prepare the employee to return – especially depending on why the employee has been gone, their needs for preparation and communication will be case-by-case.
That's why it may be a good idea to invite the employee for a chat about their return, some time before their leave has ended – if they want to and it can help ease their nerves. For example, do they want to know everything that has happened while they were gone? Are they ready to pick up where they left off? Did their ambition and motivation change while they were gone? If they've been on parental leave, are they nervous about their work-life balance?
Remember: Especially if the employee has been away due to illness, it's extremely important to communicate with empathy and flexibility. Maybe the employee isn't ready for a comprehensive, structured plan for their reboarding and maybe the employee would prefer to have a very tangible plan for their return. Ask them, without putting too much pressure on them. 

A good reboarding process

Of course, you can create a template for a reboarding plan. But the truth is, requirement and requests for structure, information, time and flexibility will depend on many factors; the employee's seniority, how long and why they've been away, whether they're returning full-time, etc. 

So our best advice is to have an overarching policy on what the requirements are for reboarding, but that it's flexible enough to embrace the varying needs of your employees. 

Send the plan for the first day in advance. For many, it'll be helpful to know what's going to happen in advance. Depending on the employee's preferences, you can even send a brief summary of major changes that have taken place while they were gone.

Plan an easy first day back – and be careful with information overload. You'll have plenty of time to go through new processes, policies, tools, etc. during the first week. 

Communicate your expectations. Some roles can be difficult to get back into – e.g. sales, where relations have to be rekindled before the employee can get back on track, or niche areas where new knowledge or certifications have emerged during the employee's absence. 

If new colleagues have started or there's other relevant organisational changes, spend some time on teambuilding. It can be anything from a lunch to a workshop. The important thing is to recognise the need and concerns.

Engage in a dialogue about relevant courses or trainings for refreshing work-related skills. Think about potential ways the employee can develop their competences, and listen to the employee's ambitions to acquire new or updated knowledge. 

Be flexible. Our What Workers Want 2024 report emphasises that one the most important factors of an employee's worklife is flexibility. And this is even more important if they're coming back from sick leave or parental leave.   

Feedback and follow-up

Finally, the most important thing is probably to check in regularly. You can create a great plan, but you won't know if it's working as intended, if you don't follow up and receive feedback. It's also a great idea to note down feedback and experiences, so you – and other managers in the organisation – can learn from your reboarding process.

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