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Including Absent Employees in our Police OrganizationsInclusivity in Employee AbsencesBy Angela E. Davey, CPA, CA, CMCP, PCP, Manager – Finance Services, Sault Ste. Marie Police ServiceMany police organizations have been experiencing an increase in employees on extended leaves. An extended leave may include sick leave, Workplace Safety & Insurance leaves, parental-type leaves, and other leaves of absence. Regardless of the type of leave, let’s not forget that these are still employees of our organizations, and they should be shown respect as such.When an employee goes off on a leave for an injury or illness, they have often already exhausted other means of care. Going off is a big decision, especially in our policing sector. The decision to go off on a long-term absence to take care of oneself indicates that the employee may already feel a sense of loss and hopelessness.
Many of these employees may already be experiencing typical symptoms of chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma, such as feeling a loss of purpose, loss of connection, shame, feeling that they don’t belong or they aren’t strong or capable. When an employee gets to this point, they should be asking themselves:• Did we not notice the signs?• Did this employee not get the help they needed?• Do we need to re-evaluate our procedures, programs, and initiatives to keep employees safe and well?Making sure these employees have a chance at a full recovery and a rewarding career going forward also falls into the employers’ hands. If these employees go off and become forgotten, their chance of a successful return to health is compromised. We want to make sure that they don’t feel left out and that they regain their sense of purpose, maintain a sense of connection, and don’t feel stigmatized any further than they already may. Every employer will have their own policies and procedures to manage employees who are off on leaves. Some of these recommendations may apply to your organization or not. Some may apply to certain situations, but not others. There are a few key ways to ensure that organizations maintain inclusivity with absent employees, don’t perpetuate any sense of loss or stigma the employees may be feeling, and allow them to return to work and good health:KEEP THEM UPDATEDWe often start with lots of contact with the employee, but then the longer they are off, it may peter out. This can leave them feeling like they don’t matter anymore or that they’ve been forgotten about, which has great potential to delay their recovery and wellbeing.
The person reaching out should have the authority to discuss the employee’s situation but may not necessarily be someone from your “People Department”. It may be the employee’s supervisor or another manager. Make sure the employee is comfortable with this person. Have the employee confirm that this is “their person” who reaches out to discuss their situation. You could have the employee sign a waiver to discuss their situation with this person. Each organization should decide what frequency of contact is appropriate and it should be individualized; some employees may want more contact than others. Let the employee be the guide. Keeping the employee up-to-date on the status of their absence, which may be nothing to report, allows them to know that the employer is still thinking about them and that they have not been forgotten about or lost in the paperwork shuffle. If an employee is left to wonder what’s going on, then it may be construed as the employer not doing anything or not caring about getting the employee back to work.Consider a rule of thumb of no less than every quarter; you may choose more than that, but less than that is too long of a gap.There may be employees that indicate that they don’t want any communication from their employer. In these cases, check with any guiding regulations that may be in place. For example, WSIB Ontario’s regulations state that the employer’s obligation is to, “maintain appropriate communication with the worker throughout their recovery”. The employer would have to establish what is appropriate. Based on conversations I’ve had with employees who have been or are on absences, each has said that more communication is appreciated as opposed to less. Nothing to report is better than silence.The employee may not want to receive regular communication from certain individuals. That’s fine. Let them guide who they are receptive to hearing from, but don’t let that be an excuse for not communicating with them.LET THEM KNOW WHAT TO EXPECTGoing off work for any reason has an impact on an employee’s mental state and their life outside the workplace. They may be concerned about changes in remuneration, continuation of benefits, impact on pensions, seniority, etc.Before they go off, or quickly thereafter, make sure to let them know what they can expect during their absence to ease their mind. If there are going to be changes to remuneration or benefits, let them know what changes to expect and when. Remind them of timelines or deadlines before they come up. The employee may have to provide additional paperwork; give them ample time to deal with this.They may have different options to consider. You may have to guide them through these options and the impact of their decisions. For example, for municipal police services in Ontario, an employee off on WSIB will have their OMERS pension contributions taken over by WSIB after being off for six months. However, WSIB will only contribute at the rate the employee was paying when they went off, so they will not receive any of the increases in pension contribution amounts while they are off. The employee may not want this to happen, especially if they are potentially in their “best years” for pension calculation.Helping employees navigate any changes shows them that you have their best interest in mind. CONSIDER A BUDDY SYSTEMAccording to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his 2021 book Keep Sharp: How to Build a Better Brain at Any Age, a loss of social connection can lead to feelings of depression, isolation, and contributes to health issues including the potential for dementia. Many people get much of their social connection from their workplace, especially in policing where it’s hard to talk to “outsiders” who don’t understand “the job”.Pairing the employee with a “buddy” can keep them connected without having to discuss the particulars of their absence. A buddy can just check in to say, “Hey, how’s your summer?” They can get a sense if the employee needs help or other resources. The buddy should be a member of a peer program, a volunteer that knows the person or a person the employee chooses. The buddy wants to have a relationship of trust with the employee so that they feel included but not that they are being ‘checked upon”.NEWSLETTER/EMAIL UPDATESEstablishing a means to keep employees who are off “in the loop” on what’s going on at work allows them to feel that they still matter. They can choose whether they want to read it. It can be startling when the employee comes back to work to find out who’s left, who’s been married or had kids, and seeing new faces in the workplace or in different roles. A newsletter or other style of communication could keep the employee in the know with new employee or retirement announcements, transfers, promotions, awards and recognitions, and other happenings so they don’t feel like they are walking into a foreign environment when they come back to work. New job postings could also be included. Not only does this keep the employee informed of changes happening in the organization, but a newly created job may fall into their return-to-work capacity, area of expertise or interest. SPECIAL EVENT NOTIFICATIONSEven though the employee is away from work, they are still employees of the organization. They could still be informed of special events happening in and around the workplace that are meant for employees.
Events such as employee BBQs, appreciation days, wellness initiatives, pension presentations etc. could be extended to employees who are off, so they are included as a member of the organization. They and their health professional can decide if attending is right for them.
Including them could also be a reminder to staff that these are still employees in our workplace. It allows newer employees to meet someone they may have heard about but not met. It allows the employee who has been off the opportunity to meet new people and renew relationships. This could be especially important when the employee returns to work; imagine a 20-year employee walking into their own workplace and people asking them who they are!
One of the best things you can do is get feedback from employees on how you can do better at being inclusive and getting employees under your watch back to health and meaningful work. Angela Davey is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner specializing in Stress Management and Wellness Coaching and E-RYT500 and TSY100 yoga teacher who has travelled throughout Canada, the U.S., and to India to gain insight on best yoga-based practices for dealing with mental, physical, and emotional well-being. She is also a certified Fitness Instructor Specialist, Personal Trainer Specialist, Healthy Eating & Weight Loss Specialist, and Reiki Master. An author and public speaker, Angela’s book Understanding Self-Care: Seven Important Things to Consider can be found on Amazon. She lives in Sault Ste. Marie with her husband, who is a police officer of 33 years and suffers from PTSD.