Author: Tina Hamilton, President and CEO, myHR Partner®

A couple of years ago, my 35-year-old son passed away. It was sudden and shocking. His widow and two kids reside in Texas. He was the breadwinner. Amid my own turmoil, I had to go to Texas and help figure out finances, find them a new home, arrange a funeral and much more. Then I needed time to mourn.

Leave of absence reasons

As a business owner, I had a company to consider. Despite my grieving, I could not just put my company aside. I employ many people and work with many suppliers. We have clients who count on us to deliver.

After more than seven weeks off, I returned to work. I realized that the company not only continued to run, it operated as if I had never left. Nothing was missed. It was one of my proudest and most humbling moments.

Sergei and Vadim Revzin, brothers and co-hosts of The Mentors podcast for entrepreneurs, shared this with Forbes: “If you’re the CEO, you should be able to step away from your business at any time without it collapsing. When your employees know how to take over some of your daily functions, the ship will continue to sail smoothly in your absence.” Amen!

Emergencies can happen to anyone in the workplace, from the top executives to the front-line employees. I have found that most organizations do not give much consideration to the possibilities of this kind of unexpected absence, nor do they create a plan on how to manage such a situation.

While there is no one-size-fits-all plan for unexpected absences, I do have some best practices our company follows that other businesses should adopt across the organization.

  • Document your processes. Each area of a job responsibility and business function should have a process guide. It is overwhelming to consider this, but it is possible. We started this day one of our company, and we keep up with it systematically. This also adds value to a business’s worth.
  • Have someone bear witness. At least one additional person in your company should have a general understanding of your job or your department and how it functions.
  • Engagement is key. When employees are engaged and truly care, they will do what it takes and not take shortcuts to assure the well-being of a company or job role during a time of emergency or sabbatical.
  • Check the organization’s center of gravity. If you are an owner or manager, are you functioning in an impossible-to-function-without-you way? This method can unfortunately be a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of a personal emergency. If your business cannot run without you there for at least a month or two, you need to make changes
  • Have key advisers in place. For business executives and owners, having counsel in place who have your best interests in mind and can be there to support your team is so important.

For non-owners experiencing an unexpected absence, I have some advice too:

  • Build solid relationships. Relationships with your teammates or managers are important for so many reasons, but in the case of unexpected leaves of absence, these bonds create a culture where others will be supportive.
  • Speak up. Asking now about creating a backup plan for later is a good thing, even if management doesn’t mandate it. The last thing anybody wants is to make or receive a call about work processes or documents when people are mourning or on a family emergency leave.

I found I needed more time to deal with my loss. I spent a month on a retreat in Thailand, completely off the grid. My amazing team embraced my decision. They were willing, prepared and equipped to handle things while I was gone, and everything ran smoothly once again.

I am not just a lucky boss. This is the environment we have strategically created so that we can be assured about our continued success. It can be this way for any organization. It’s a matter of cultivating a culture that supports all its members when times are good in preparation for the inevitable times that are bad.