Five keys to creating an employee-centric leave program

July 19, 2021

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Until recently, many U.S. companies looked at employee leave as something to discourage — or at least minimize. Taking time off to care for new children, ailing family members or employees themselves wasn't seen as a tool for helping people stay productive. Rather, leave management was considered an administrative or HR compliance function. But times have changed.

Fast forward to today, where companies are using employee leave programs to attract talented workers, especially younger people in the workforce who feel leave of absence is a must-have benefit.

But just having a leave program isn't enough. The most successful companies create leave and absence management programs that are centered around their employees, with policies, procedures and tools that make time away from work easy to plan, easy to take and easy to return from.

HR is at the center of the circle where recruitment, retention and productivity intersect. That's why it has a key role to play in shaping the organization's approach to absence management. Experts we've talked to have identified five key ways HR can help build leave programs centered around employees and their needs.

1. Be a force for change

HR professionals can be the catalyst that helps precipitate a shift in their organizations’ attitudes and approaches. As Cara Brennan Allamano, Vice President of People, Places and Learning at Udemy, said in a recent SHRM webinar, “We are the changemakers around leave.”

With their unrivaled knowledge of how leave affects employees, HR teams have the platform and the credibility to articulate the benefits of leave to the organization. HR should work to convey that “leave is an expression of a company’s values, and an investment in the long-term value of an employee,” Allamano said.

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Leave is an expression of a company's values.

Cara Brennan Allamano, Udemy

2. Promote your employee program

If you want to reap the wide-ranging benefits of offering a great leave program, employees need to know about it. Promote your program widely in your organization and ensure your recruiters are taking the message to candidates.

When promoting your program internally, be sure to provide clear information on how the program works, who is eligible to use it, and how to get started.

3. Support employees in their return to work

In Allamano’s experience, a company can lose valuable talent by not giving people — especially new mothers — a clear path back to work. She said a few simple steps can help ensure a high rate of return after leave.

Most important is communication: Managers should let employees know about the company's leave policy and support for taking leave before a need for leave of absence arises — and they should emphasize that an employee’s return is important to the organization.

The company should have a process in place for establishing a return-to-work date before the employee goes on leave, and for confirming that date as the end of leave draws near. HR can help by discussing what the reintegration process will look like.

During leave, a company can demonstrate the employee's value by contracting with service providers who can help with specific needs, such as information on elder-care services, advice on looking for daycare, etc.

“Getting employees back to productive work as soon as they are able — that’s a win,” said Zory Harter, Vice President of Absence Management Experience at Unum, in a recent webinar for Human Resource Executive.

4. Offer easy-to-use, consumer-friendly tools

Today's employees want to do things quickly and easily — in short, digitally. Think of employees as consumers of your leave offering and ensure they can manage their leaves 24/7, across multiple platforms (web, mobile, phone, text), largely on their own.

For example, consider digital tools that allow employees to see how much leave time they are entitled to and how much they will be paid, if taking a paid leave, while they are out. Not only will that help employees plan, it will cut down on the number of routine questions coming in to HR.

“Technology can provide faster and better quality and allow employees to know where their leave claim stands at all times,” said Harter.

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Think of employees as consumers of your leave offering. They want to do things quickly and easily.

5. Leverage leave technology to solve business problems

The complexity of managing requirements for FMLA, ADA and state and municipal leaves has been the driving force leading many companies to outsource leave of absence management. But compliance is only the beginning of what third-party leave management can offer.

Sophisticated technology can take more routine tasks off your HR team’s plate, freeing them to provide the personalized service that helps employees understand their value to the company, cuts down on attrition and boosts employee productivity.

“It’s easy to tie the cost of replacing an experienced employee to your leave program’s ROI. This is data you can take to your CFO or COO that can result in a mind shift about total return on investment,” said Allamano.

“Evaluate your program through the lens of the future,” said Harter. “Where does it need to be tomorrow? That will naturally lay the foundation of considerations for your business.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vast gap between people’s health and caregiving needs and the structures government and business have erected to meet them. Companies that value their employees as whole people, and craft employee-centered leave programs to help them, HR professionals will likely reap the financial rewards of a workforce that is more talented, more experienced, more loyal and more productive. HR professionals are uniquely well positioned to lead the way for their organizations.

Learn more with these resources from HR Trends

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