How to Step in When Your Colleague is on Leave

BKD Southwest Missouri partners and managing directors take sabbaticals every five years, which helps prevent burnout and allows other employees to execute plans and learn more.

By Evan Greenberg

Mar 2019

Stepping in for Coworkers on Leave
Illustration by Alex WolkenBKD Southwest Missouri prepares for employee sabbaticals in three ways.

Making sure everyone is on the same page about what exactly is happening, why it’s happening and when it’s happening is crucial. Gary Schafer, managing partner at BKD Southwest Missouri, says that at BKD, where partners and managing directors taking sabbaticals is required, communication is a key tenet to keeping things on the right track. BKD noticed that its employees were suffering from burnout, so to combat this, it instituted a sabbatical policy to give them time to recharge and refresh.“Communication is critically important,” Schafer says. “For us, each of our partners works with a number of different clients, and so for every client, [it's important to] build the team that’s going to address that client's needs while the partner is away." 


Deciding who will perform certain tasks in relief of an absent partner and making sure each team member understands what that entails is crucial. "If a team member is used to handling the tax portion of an account and now they’re going to be responsible for addressing all the issues, that individual may need to get educated with what’s going on with the company’s financial statements or with their consulting projects," Schafer says. This also can pose advantages: If there are members of a team who aren’t used to doing a certain type of work, it can be a great way to train them and see what they’re capable of.


As people take on new tasks, it's important to take stock of their experience and understand that they may not have all the answers right away. “We really try to be inclusive and build a team around these situations,” Schafer says.