Comprehensive leave benefits are important — but it’s just as important to ensure that employees understand these benefits, can easily access them, and that the company builds a culture that supports the employee leave experience. And with the COVID-19 pandemic spotlighting the imperative to have robust and clear leave policies in place, it’s becoming a priority: eight in 10 employers say that COVID-19 has raised senior leadership’s awareness around the importance of leave management.

Our webinar Improving Employee Leave: How technology can enable a smoother leave journey explores how company culture, policies, and collaboration can support the employee leave process. Here are tips from our speakers to help promote a smooth leave experience for your employees.

Company culture drives the leave experience

“The employee leave experience really does begin with the company culture,” Garlande Patz, Sr. Absence Management Solutions Practice Leader at Guardian, said during our webinar. Patz notes that when employers are evaluating their approach to employee leave they should take a step back and review their company culture and ask questions, such as: “What is the philosophy around leave? How does the process look today? How supportive is the employer of employees taking leave? What type of education and training is provided to HR staff, supervisors, and employees?”

The pandemic required many employers to re-evaluate their company culture around leave policies to allow for pandemic-related leave, caregiving, and other accommodations. Whereas before, leave might have been discouraged or viewed as an obstacle, it’s often seen now as a benefit to support well-being.

“The pandemic led to a shift in mindset refocusing the topic on how to support and empower employees,” notes Patz. “This shift in priority is leading employees to feel more supported by their employer, which has a positive impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and longevity within the company.”  Inflection Point, Guardian’s 10th Annual Work Benefits Study, found that companies that prioritize paid family and medical leave policies are also more focused on employee retention and report higher employee benefits satisfaction. ​

Communication is key to successful leave policies and processes

When crafting a leave policy, it’s important to hear directly from employees about what benefits are needed. Consider a poll or a survey to find out what benefits workers prioritize. “Talk to employees to really gain insight on benefits that the employees feel are missing,” notes Patz. “Once you’ve identified those gaps, take action on them. The employees need to know that they are being heard.”

And remember to clearly communicate policies around leave in one, centralized place. Make sure employees know where to look or who to go to when exploring leave options. Provide training to make sure that every level of the organization has the tools they need and understands their roles and responsibilities.

Consider collaboration and outsourcing to enhance the leave experience

Outsourcing leave management can be an effective way to streamline leave processes and promote clarity. Leave requests can often come at stressful times for employees, so keeping the process simple can help.

Outsourced leave management platforms help the employee with “knowing where they are in the claim process, having one point of contact, and one letter explaining their leave and the benefits applicable to them, as well as one benefit check,” said Jennifer Hader, AVP of Product Management at Guardian. “Most employees don’t know all of the benefits that are available to them. They don’t know all of the laws. They just know that they need to take the leave. Having ease and clarity throughout the process is very important.”

Moreover, outsourcing can support compliance amidst rapidly changing state and federal leave regulations. Lack of experience in managing leave laws such as under the FMLA or pandemic-related leave can result in fines, investigations, or even lawsuits. Guardian’s report Absence Management Redefined found that two in three employers are considering outsourcing their FMLA leave management for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use technology to strengthen employee communications

Many outsourced leave management systems include dashboards or employee portals, which can simplify and enhance the employee leave experience. “Having one point of intake for multiple leaves or claims really simplifies the process and makes sure that the employee is set up for all eligible benefits,” said Hader.

Many benefits are available to an employee during their leave, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and mental health support. A centralized dashboard can help to connect them to these offerings while they’re on leave.

Outsourced solutions can also offer multi-channel communication options, letting companies share updates and information through the method that is most convenient to the employee – a necessity for today’s diverse workforce. “The generation that is in the workforce today is by far the most multi-generational workforce that we’ve ever seen,” notes Paige Edwards, Divisional Vice President, Group Benefits Sales, Guardian. “Meeting people where they are — whether it’s through phone, email, text, chat, mail, or fax — is the cornerstone of any successful collaboration down the line.”

A robust employee leave program that simplifies the leave experience can be an essential part of an employee-focused benefits suite. Today, companies are finding ways to support employees taking leave as a way to promote employee wellness. And the payoff is clear: Patz notes, “We know that good health and well-being is a core enabler of employee engagement.”

Learn more about workplace trends in employee leave management by visiting Guardian Edge.

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