COVID definitely shifted the mindset of leave management and gave employers the opportunity to really hit a reset button on leave policies. So we're seeing that the pandemic put that spotlight on the importance of supporting the emotional well-being of employees and [AUDIO OUT] that many employers didn't have policies or processes in place that really permitted employees to take paid time off to care for a family member.
So from a policy perspective, we've definitely seen a huge growth in the number of companies that are offering paid family care benefits. I do think that this is due to COVID, but I also think it's something that has come to light because of the introduction of numerous paid state leaves, which we can touch on in a little bit. These paid state programs, many of them do include coverage for family care, and employers want to ensure that their company policies are keeping up with those state benefits as well.
Now, from a process standpoint, COVID has also highlighted some gaps here, the biggest one being the lack of education that employees have regarding their company's leave benefits. So really, when it comes to leave, employees want to know what benefits are available to them, where to go to read about their benefits, and then how to claim the benefits when they actually need them. So COVID really forced employers to one, review the policies that they offer to their employees to make sure that they're meeting those employee needs, but then also making sure that these policies are clearly defined, easy to understand, and accessible so that employees can actually use them.
So Garlande, what specifically do you see as the top priorities for employers that you've been working with in managing absence next year, and how might those priorities and challenges maybe be different by the size of the company, for large versus small, let's say?
Definitely. I think the top two, Gene, that I've seen are paid leave and mental health. So I think the expansion of paid company leave policies will continue to be top of mind for employers in 2022. However, employers also need to be mindful of the rapidly evolving leave landscape. We kind of talked about complexity and compliance and how that's a concern. So when we talk about that, we also want to look at the state leaves and accommodations under ADA.
So employers really need to be prepared to enforce the complexities there as well as the complexities, the added complexities, rather, from COVID of vaccine mandates and any legally required exemptions or related accommodations. So there's a lot to unpack there. There is definitely a renewed focus on employee health and productivities, so employers really should be asking themselves, how can we keep employees healthy and productive?
We all know that the pandemic took a huge toll on employees, specifically related to burnout and mental health. Regardless of employer size, in 2022, I think that a focus really does need to be on mental health in the workplace. What resources are available to employees? How are employees made aware of these resources? How does the company culture support mental health to begin with?
You also asked about challenges. When it comes to challenges in 2022, I do think smaller firms generally face more barriers when we're talking about offering paid company leaves when compared to larger firms. But honestly, these benefits are vital for any firm. These are the types of perks that are going to attract and retain top talent moving forward. Ping pong tables at lunch isn't so much-- that's a thing of the past now. Employees are really looking at the benefit package.
And then lastly, the complexity of the state leaves. I can't stress that enough, both paid and unpaid, right? So large and small firms that have multistate employee presence really need to consider compliance. How do state benefits interact with company benefits? Whether they're going to offer a private plan or go through the state. These are some of the reasons that we're actually continuing to see an increase in outsourcing just because of the complexities here, and I don't see that slowing down in 2022.
Yeah, agreed. How do you see technology, all the advancements that have been made in the marketplace, helping to improve the employee leave experience? And what do you see coming maybe in 2022 as kind of the next wave of innovation?
Great question. I think we'll definitely start to see some shifts in the leave experience for both employees and employers due to the dramatic increase in telecommuting. So I was actually in New York City when COVID first made headlines. I flew home to Maine on a Thursday night, and within I think it was four days, our office was closed. I was doing everything from home. Not just working. Grocery shopping, everything.
Same thing applies to the leave experience. Employees want to be able to access their leave information, file a leave, get status updates, whether that be through their laptop, tablet, receive text messaging. So they're really demanding access to multiple digital channels. And we need to be able to meet them there. The technology advancements really are allowing employees to access and use their benefits from everywhere, anywhere, really.
But what's next? I think it's taking that technology one step further. So we're meeting employees where they're at when it comes to providing status updates and everything. But how do we integrate treatment into the employer or carrier's leave process?
So for example, if an employee is filing a leave for depression, what types of programs are offered to the employee during claim intake to really address their mental health? And how can we individualize these programs to address each unique employee's condition? So I think that's really where we'll see some focus, and if not, where we should put some resources.
All right. Well, thank you, Garlande. That's all the time we have, but thanks again so much for being with us today and really throughout all of 2021 with the many webinars that we've done on the topic of leave management. Happy holidays to you, and I'm sure we'll be seeing each other in the virtual world of absence webinars next year. Speaking of, here's a brief clip of you, Garlande, from one of our best attended webinars of 2021 on improving the employee experience during leave. Check it out.
The employee leave experience really does begin with the company culture. So as we keep that in mind, it's important to take a step back and review the culture and ask questions, like what is the employer's philosophy around leave? How does the process look today? Even how supportive is the employer of employees taking leave? And what type of education and training is provided to HR staff, supervisors, and employees?
We know that good health and well-being really is a core enabler of employee engagement. When employees feel supported, whether that's from a physical, emotional, financial perspective, and they have access to resources like an EAP, like a fitness program, we see lower absenteeism. So as an employer striving for this improved health and higher morale within the organization is only going to have a positive impact on that absenteeism and, again, tying it all back to that employee experience as a whole and the company culture. So it's all of these things working together.