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What's the biggest thing employees learned from the pandemic? That time off isn't a luxury — it's essential to preserving their physical and mental wellbeing and productivity at work.

Today, employee attitudes and expectations toward work, leave and other benefits are still evolving while the legal landscape for employee leave grows ever more complex. For HR professionals to keep up, they need to be aware of six trends that are changing employee leave for good.

1. Old expectations no longer apply

Employers are noticing a rising trend in employees' expectations of them, and they're starting to respond.

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    87% of employers recognize that their employees expect more from them when it comes to caring for and understanding their needs.1

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    Nine out of ten employers agree that benefits are critical to attracting and retaining talent.2

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    51% of employers are likely to expand their leave offerings in the coming year or two.2

As they respond, employers should realize that the specific benefits valued by employees have also changed — and leave has risen to the top. The latest Benefits and Employee Attitude Tracker (BEAT) study from LIMRA shows that employees overwhelmingly value paid time off and other leave and insurance benefits, even more than flexible work schedules.3


Key takeaway

In a competitive labor market, employers are realizing that their attraction and retention efforts may depend on how well they care for their employees, including how well they fulfill employee expectations for leave.

2. A changing workforce has diverse needs

The pandemic changed life in the U.S. forever, but that's not the only reason employee expectations are changing. The workforce itself is changing, too. "The pandemic highlighted just how diverse our workforce is," said Angel Bennett, AVP of Paid Leave and ADA in the Absence Management Center at Unum.

There are five generations working in the U.S. today, with Generation Z and Millennial workers on pace to make up 60% of the workforce by 2031.2 A more heterogeneous workforce means employees are looking for a broader range of benefits, with more personalized options to meet their diverse needs.

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"Employers have to evolve their leave programs to remain competitive."

— Angel Bennett, Assistant Vice President, Leave and ADA Solutions, Unum

Gen Z and Millennial workers Gen X and Baby Boomer workers
Medical benefits Medical benefits
Paid time off Paid time off
Flexible schedules Dental and vision insurance
Life insurance Vacation time
Mental health coverage Retirement savings and pension plans
Supplemental health products
Wellness programs
Tuition and student loan assistance
A variety of other non-insurance offerings

Source: LIMRA, 2023 BEAT Study: Benefits and Employee Attitude Tracker, 2023.


Key takeaway

Employers have to look beyond what they've traditionally offered and ensure their benefits package has something for everyone in their multigenerational workforce, including different types of leave.

3. Unpaid leave isn't enough

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) dictates that employees in many companies be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year to take care of personal or family medical issues without losing their jobs,4 but during that time, they don't necessarily get paid.

Employers have become increasingly aware that their employees want paid leave to help preserve their finances if they get sick or injured, need to take care of a sick or injured family member, or need to bond with a new child.

According to LIMRA and EY, when employers were asked what benefits they think employees will want in the next five years, the number who mentioned paid family and medical leave jumped 26% from 2021 to 2023.2


Key takeaway

Employees are focusing on whether they have access to paid leave for life challenges such as illness, caregiving and parenthood. Companies that want to remain employers of choice should evaluate options for providing leave that is paid as well as job-protected.

4. Complexity is here to stay

To date, states and local governments have passed over 200 paid and unpaid leave laws. This means that a single leave can involve multiple laws, and the employer must understand how those work together to avoid costly ramifications.

Employers should realize that this complexity is not going away. In fact, it will likely get worse, leaving them to address a large, confusing and sometimes contradictory body of legislation, especially if they have employees in multiple states.


Key takeaway

Employers need to have a plan in place to address the growing legal complexities surrounding leave, whether it's ensuring they have a skilled internal team to shoulder compliance risks or working with a leave management partner who can take this burden off their plate.

5. Asking for help may be the best solution

"Employers have to evolve their leave programs to remain competitive," said Bennett. Employees want new types of leave like parental, bereavement and caregiver leave, according to a recent Unum survey,1 while many companies still think of leave only in terms of disability.

Supporting employees on leave, researching new leave programs and managing compliance complexity can create an enormous, often unmanageable amount of work for internal HR departments. That's why more and more companies are working with leave management partners who can provide the resources to track and manage leaves, reduce compliance risk and create a better experience for employees.


Key takeaway

HR teams can be overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to create and manage an effective, compliant leave program. Looking to external partners for help can free HR to focus on other strategic priorities.

6. Supporting employees is good for business

According to LIMRA and EY, 39% of workers say that they are much more likely to stay with their employers if they like their benefits package.3 This means that providing support is not only good for employees and their personal lives, but it's also good for the company's bottom line.

As a result, employers need to change their perspective on leave. Instead of focusing on trying to minimize leave to save money and reduce staffing pressures, employers need to focus on providing employees with a great experience when they need time away from work.


Key takeaway

When employees are satisfied with their employer, companies reap the benefits in terms of improved productivity and reduced recruiting and retention costs. Supplying the leave benefits employees want and need is a critical part of the equation.


Explore Unum leave and absence solutions

From expert compliance resources to modern absence-management technology, Unum has solutions that can elevate your capabilities and your employees' experience.

1 Unum, Q2 Employer Insights Pulse Survey, August 2023.
2 LIMRA and EY, Harnessing Growth and Seizing Opportunity: 2023 Workforce Benefits Study, 2023.
3 LIMRA, 2023 BEAT Study: Benefits and Employee Attitude Tracker, 2023.
4 See our FMLA Handbook for a detailed explanation of FMLA entitlements and other rules.

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