Leave's new look: 2023 trends HR should know

June 28, 2023

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Episode details

Two new reports illustrate that employee expectations are high and getting higher. A March 2023 Unum survey shows that 87% of employers recognize that their employees expect more from them in terms of care and understanding.1 And the latest "BEAT" study from LIMRA shows that employees overwhelmingly value paid time off and other leave and insurance benefits, even more than flexible work schedules.2 In this episode, two of the foremost U.S. leave experts — Unum's Ellen McCann and Angel Bennett — discuss the implications for employers in this tough post-pandemic labor market.

  • Employers are catching up. According to Ellen, it's great seeing employers recognize the rise in expectations that's been evident over the last couple of years. If the pandemic had any silver linings, one might be that employees began to realize their need for time off, and they expect this time going forward into the new normal. For their part, employers began to realize the correlation between employee retention and having a robust leave program. [01:47]

  • Diversity is driving change. The pandemic also highlighted just how diverse our workforce is, said Angel. Employers need to recognize that a diverse employee population needs different types of leave programs. And they also need to shift their focus away from trying to minimize the impact of leave on the company, and toward how it will benefit the employee experience. [04:30]

  • Complexity is here to stay. The complexity of the legal landscape for leave is going to keep increasing. According to Ellen, "One absence could have five or six different protections attached to it, and employers have to understand how they all work together. Do they run at the same time or concurrently? Do they run consecutively? How do I put this puzzle together for my employees?" [06:03]

  • Paid leave is getting hotter. "We're seeing growth in unpaid leave laws in many states," said Ellen, "but we're also seeing a lot of energy focused on paid leave." Unum added 23 new unpaid leave laws to its leave management service last year. And 11 states and DC have passed paid family and medical leave programs. States are experimenting with novel ways to attack the same problem: that a huge percentage of American employees don't have enough paid leave. Employers are going to have to figure out what their responses to these programs will be, particularly to those programs that are voluntary. Will not participating put them at a competitive disadvantage? [07:11]

  • Employers can't do it alone. This complexity means that employers not working with a leave management partner have a huge amount of work to keep up with. It's especially helpful to have a partner who is keeping watch on upcoming legislation so the employer doesn't get caught off guard. [09:40]

  • Companies that outsource free up time. According to the Unum survey, 51% of employers likely to expand their leave offerings in the coming year or two.1 These companies tend to be those that are currently outsourcing leave, suggesting that they are seeing the benefits of working with a partner. Angel says it's clear that employers realize they have to evolve their leave programs to remain competitive. Parental leave, bereavement leave and caregiver leave were among the most requested type of leave, according to surveyed employers,1 showing that employers have to think beyond disability benefits. Supporting employees on leave and researching new leave programs can be a time sink for HR, which is another reason to outsource leave to an experienced partner. [10:37]

  • Care impacts the bottom line. Employees' increasing interest in bereavement and caregiving leave ties back to their desire for more care from their employers, according to Ellen. This can be a new concept for employers. "This whole concept of care is kind of a squishy concept that some employers really couldn't embrace before the pandemic, and now they're saying, 'Nope, my employees expect more from me.' They're recognizing that their role is not just to give someone a paycheck — it's to support that employee, financially, emotionally and in terms of their family obligations." According to Ellen, employers are realizing that when they provide this support it improves their bottom line, in part because it results in fewer employees quitting and helps employees stay healthier. [14:38]

  • One key message? Angel: "Think beyond paid parental leave — think about having something that's more inclusive to people at different stages of their life." Ellen: "Look at how you're applying those policies in your workforce to make sure you are being inclusive and equitable. For example, look at how you're defining when the employee can take family medical or caregiver leave. In an era of changing families, let the employee decide who's important enough to them to take that leave. This will make your employees feel valued and included." [17:28]

Future of leave guide


The Future of Leave Guide

This guide gives employers the tools they need to innovate and streamline to create a future-forward leave and absence management strategy.

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Ellen McCann headshot

Ellen McCann

Assistant Vice President, Leave Solutions, Unum Group

Ellen McCann serves as a leading expert in applying benefits and benefits technology to power modern solutions for more effective employee leave programs, stronger regulatory compliance and enhanced digital HR transformation. In this role, she combines more than 30 years of employment law experience with practical knowledge of the complexities of leave and accommodation management to help develop and create solutions that enable employers to address the challenges of leave and accommodations. She is an acclaimed national speaker on leave management issues including FMLA and ADA and is a certified trainer for SHRM and CE credit.

Angel Bennett headshot

Angel Bennett

Assistant Vice President, Leave and ADA Solutions, Unum

Angel Bennett is Assistant Vice President of Leave and ADA Solutions at Unum. Angel has been with Unum since 2003 and has held many roles within Benefits and Absence Management, including positions in Long Term Disability, Short Term Disability, Leave Management, Paid Leave and ADA. She led the charge in standing up Unum's first Paid Leave Organization in 2017 and continues to drive success in the department. Angel also oversees Unum's growing ADA department, which has become an essential part of the company's leave offering. Angel received a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She holds the Associate, Life and Health Claims and Associate, Customer Service designations.

About the host

Clare Morin headshot

Clare Morin

Content Marketing Manager, Unum

Clare Morin is the Content Marketing Manager at Unum and a journalist who's spent the last 20 years interviewing hundreds of thought leaders on topics ranging from wellness to culture, finance, human resources and technology. Born in the UK, raised in Hong Kong and based in the U.S. since 2009, she brings a global outlook to the HR Trends studio.

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These resources are not intended to constitute legal advice and are for general educational purposes only.
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1 Unum Employer Insights Pulse Survey, March 2023.
2 LIMRA, 2023 BEAT Study: Benefits and Employee Attitude Tracker, 2023.