How Healthcare Employers Can Make their Leave Program Efficient, Compliant, and Compassionate

June 12, 2024

When an emergency room nurse takes leave, their duties don’t get put on hold until they return. Another equally skilled, equally credentialed professional must do the job in their absence. This reality is just one of the factors that makes leave management at healthcare organizations highly complex. Hospitals, urgent cares, and other facilities must balance round-the-clock operations, shift work, changing regulations, and fitness-for-duty requirements.

To make matters more challenging, the healthcare industry also sees higher rates of leaves of absence compared to other sectors. Their employees also take higher rates of intermittent leave, which is traditionally the most difficult type of leave to manage. Even simple tasks like communication grow complicated in healthcare settings, where employees are often busy with patients and far from their desks and computers.

When it’s done right, leave management keeps healthcare facilities operational and compliant. Clear, supportive leave processes also improve the employee experience — something healthcare employers must deliver as they fight high turnover rates and employee burnout.

With the stakes so high, an important question comes to mind: how can healthcare employers get leave management right? In this article, we review best practices and key strategies to improve your leave program.

Provide a Modern, Personalized Leave Experience

For most employees, asking or notifying HR about a leave of absence is an intimidating experience. Sometimes, the reason for leave is joyful. But other times, the reason behind someone’s time away is private, painful, or complex.

Employers can take advantage of leave technology to make sure employees can request leave in a way that’s uncomplicated and discreet. Here are a few ways employers provide this kind of experience:

Offer healthcare employees a self-service portal

Providing employees with a self-service portal makes it easier to request leave and get real-time updates. This can drastically reduce the number of simple questions HR and leave management teams receive, leaving more time for complex cases and personalized support.

Use multi-channel communications throughout the process

It’s challenging to communicate with healthcare employees who are always on the move. HR teams can often get a faster response for employees by using their preferred method of communication, such as texting. This allows HR leaders to share critical information about the leave process in a way that is timely, accessible, and personalized for their workforce.

Personalize communications to employees

Employees taking leave may be stepping away for very personal reasons. The communications they receive should reflect that. Language found in any communications, from letters to text messages, should not only feel personal to the recipient but should also reflect the culture of the organization sending it.

HR teams can make their leave process more personal and supportive by using it as an opportunity to connect people with related resources. If an employee requests a leave for a mental health-related reason, that’s a good time to connect the individual with an employee assistance program or make them aware of other mental health benefits.

Set up automated reminders

Leaves of absence require a multi-step process that often comes with deadlines and homework for both employer and employee. Automated reminders keep both parties on track.

Improve Your Return to Work Processes

The job of leave management doesn’t end once an employee is out on leave. In fact, the return-to-work process is just as important as the leave itself — especially in health care. A comprehensive and smooth return-to-work program is key to making sure healthcare organizations can deliver critical care and operate smoothly.

It also impacts the employee experience. A recent AbsenceSoft survey asked healthcare employees who had recently taken a leave of absence about their experiences. Positive leave experiences improved loyalty, productivity, and a sense of belonging. On the flip side, of those who reported a negative leave and return-to-work experience, 46% decided to look for a new job or didn’t come back to work.

Here are a few of the most important features of a robust return-to-work program:

  • Communicate all expectations of your process to the employee, including the expected time and date of return and any fitness for duty requirements, before they return to work.
  • Track fitness for duty requirements, when applicable.
  • Reach out to the employee to discuss, evaluate, and finalize any accommodations they might need before returning to work.
  • Notify IT and any other department of the date the employee will return to work to ensure all required access and permissions are restored.
  • Keep the employee notified of any relevant updates to the organization or their role before they return to work.

Automate to Improve Compliance and Drive Efficiency

HR and leave managers aren’t on their own when it comes to making the leave process better. Modern leave technology like AbsenceSoft can help streamline leave administration from the moment an employee requests leave to the day they return to work, and beyond.

Leave management software turns leave processes into automated workflows, so HR teams can stop wasting hours they don’t have. Healthcare teams may have access to some leave functionality through their HCM or HRIS, but these add-ons often leave much to be desired around leave and accommodations functionality.

In healthcare, it’s essential that leave managers use tools that are purpose-built for leave, or they can end up with workarounds or increased compliance risk. A robust leave management platform can instantly calculate eligibility, produce forms and documents in minutes, and send automated notifications – all adding up to big gains in efficiency. The HR team at one national healthcare provider, for example, saved over 19 hours per week after switching to AbsenceSoft.

Leave management software can also help HR be more accurate and proactive. Technology helps teams calculate leave entitlement for multiple job codes, locations and more. And it allows HR to uncover the details of its leave and accommodations programs. Tools designed to administer leave will illuminate HR to potential bottlenecks, staffing strategies, and real-time trends.

Adding a purpose-built leave platform to your tech stack doesn’t have to be painful. AbsenceSoft integrates with existing systems seamlessly so everything is kept up to date.

Use Insights and Data to Make Improvements

In the complex world of healthcare, leave managers need data to make their jobs easier. Reports can tell you how many employees are on leave at any given time. They can give you insights that inform policy decisions. They provide visibility into your leave program, helping you hone your business processes.

Here are three reports that can provide your organization pivotal insights:

  1. Real-Time Leave Status Report: A leave status report gives your team a real-time and on-demand overview of leave requests and the status of those requests. This report gives you quick insights into: employees who have submitted leave requests, eligibility status, leave approval status, and anticipated return to work dates.  
  1. Intermittent Usage Report: Tracking and managing an intermittent leave case can be very tedious and time-consuming for a leave team. An intermittent usage report checks the need-to-know data points for intermittent leaves, including: intermittent leave usage (who is out and for how long), which employees need recertification, and any inconsistencies or trends in usage. 
  1. Caseload Report: This report helps HR leaders know how work is being allocated to each member of the leave team. A caseload report will display each leave manager’s caseload and will detail their: number of cases, case type, and length of each case. This helps to identify if one team member is taking on a lot more cases than others, and can help to distribute work more evenly.

Historically, managing leave in healthcare has been a stressful, time-consuming, and complicated process. But it doesn’t have to remain this way.

By establishing clear protocols, automating processes, and fostering open communication channels, healthcare organizations can create a personalized approach that allows employees to depart from and return to work feeling supported and engaged. If you’d like to learn more about how AbsenceSoft can improve leave management in your healthcare organization, schedule a call today.