HR Planning: How to Prepare for an Unexpected Leave of Absence

In the agency world, we staff account teams based on expected workload and client needs. Depending on the size of the account, this can vary from a single consultant to a larger team led by an account manager and several support personnel.

Ideally, more than one team member is involved (to some capacity) on each account, ensuring that your clients are never left in the dark or without access to services and support.

We are able to plan ahead and adjust for vacations, holidays and maternity/paternity leaves, but what happens when a core account member has an unexpected leave of absence? If other consultants are unaware of, or uninvolved with, the day-to-day ongoings of their client(s), this may pose an issue for maintaining momentum and quality of work.

Is your agency structured in a way that enables other consultants to jump in and support client accounts? Would your clients feel confident working with other consultants if their main contact were unavailable? Here are some recommended safeguards every agency should have in place to prepare for the unexpected.

How to Prepare for an Unexpected Leave

  • Be organized. It should go without saying, but organization is key for setting teams up for success in the event of an absence. Every account manager and support team member should keep detailed, public notes on active campaigns, projects and recent conversations. Whether client interactions are available in your CRM, forwarded emails or a physical file, an outside team member should be able to get caught up to speed without having to directly contact the out-of-pocket colleague (or the client) for an update.
  • Establish a second point of contact. While accounts have a day-to-day point person, each client should know who their backup is. Make sure the client is familiar with another member on staff, and feels confident that her or she is knowledgeable in their industry and campaign. Reinforce the alternative contact during planned vacation and personal days, including their name and contact information in automatic out of office replies. If both personnel will be away at the same time, introduce another team member prior to taking leave.
  • Provide access to files, accounts and management tools. All strategic documents, campaign plans, presentations, performance reports and other pertinent files should be readily available to other members on staff through a secured storage center—on the cloud or internal server. While records of communications are helpful, account assets are essential to continuing activities and services without interruption. In addition, the agency should be able to access all tools and accounts needed for daily maintenance of client campaigns. Whether this is centralized, secured management of account passwords or granting administrative access to the project management center, personnel outside of the core account team will need these permissions to take over activities.
  • Consider other roles and responsibilities. Agency personnel often fill roles outside of direct client services. From HR and finance, to office admin and operations, appoint a backup to each function to ensure internal responsibilities can be transferred to other team members. Just the same as client services, internal operations should carry on as usual.
  • Determine a level of transparency. Every agency and consultant is different. Some may have personal connections with clients, while others may prefer a level of personal privacy and prefer not to share personal matters, such as a family death, temporary disability or illness. Make sure your staff understands the fine line of transparency versus confidentiality, and maintains the humanistic side of the client-consultant relationship when notifying a client of a consultant’s unexpected leave.

Use these tips to position your team for success, and enable a transfer roles and responsibilities at a moments notice. To establish a more technical risk management strategy, develop a formal HR contingency plan.

What steps has your agency taken to prepare for unexpected leaves of absence? Have you faced any challenges or wins when stepping in to support a client account unexpectedly? Leave your comments below!

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