Companies of all sizes, but especially large employers, continue to face growing challenges with absence management. AbsenceSoft’s 2023 Employee Leave of Absence Forecast Survey confirmed that leave requests have risen sharply in the past year, and most employers expect them to keep increasing.
What is driving these requests? In that same survey, the top reasons provided for taking a leave of absence were:
- to recover from extended sickness or illness,
- burnout and other mental wellness concerns,
- and caring for a loved one.
In today’s competitive labor market, it is also important to offer robust paid leave options for employees to improve retention, productivity, and morale. A recent report by Guardian Life found that 70% of organizations with at least 50 employees now offer paid parental leave or family care benefits. However, to get the most out of a new paid leave program, it is important to have processes to manage these absences well.
When a leave program is left as an afterthought, it can lead to ongoing business disruptions, including decreased productivity and increased recruitment costs. With so many federal and state leave laws in effect – and more taking effect every day – staying compliant is also a challenge. That’s why it is so important for human resources teams to incorporate today’s best practices into their absence management program.
In this article, we’ll take a quick look at ways you can improve your leave of absence management, from the initial leave request leave all the way to an employee’s return to work. We’ll also look at strategies for delivering a personalized leave experience that will boost your organization’s bottom line.
#1. Simplify and streamline the request process
When an employee needs to make a leave request, especially one that might be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you want to be sure they know just what to do. If it is too hard for an employee to request or inquire about a leave, it can lead to a lawsuit.
From day one, you should regularly educate employees on your absence policies and how to make a leave request. One way to simplify your request process is by implementing leave technology that offers an employee self-service portal. This lets employees make requests on any device, reminds them what information is needed, and provides HR with all the pertinent information right away.
You also want to make sure your leave team can access a centralized system that automatically calculates eligibility, stores important information, and tracks leave usage. This makes things much faster, improves compliance, and enables your leave team to handle large volumes of leave requests quickly and easily.
#2. Create and implement a comprehensive return-to-work (RTW) program
If you don’t already have one, you should create a comprehensive return-to-work policy. This process needs to include ways for the employee, their supervisor, HR team members, and medical providers to align on the best way for the employee to come back to work. Communications should be automatically sent out so that the employee knows the exact date they should return. Clear, regular communication also makes sure that management and co-workers are ready for the employee to come back.
It is very common for someone to need workplace accommodations after taking a leave of absence. Employees should be made aware of how to request what they need as part of your return-to-work process. The policy should also ensure the interactive process is fully completed if an accommodations request is made.
#3. Train frontline managers regularly
The more knowledgeable and supportive your frontline managers are, the more effective your absence management program will be. When an employee needs to take a leave of absence, they often ask their manager. This is why HR teams should provide regular manager training sessions. These sessions can help managers fully understand company policies, legal regulations, leave processes, and their role in managing absences.
When managers aren’t properly trained, they can become a major source of lawsuits. Supervisors should understand the basics: what employees are entitled to, how often they can communicate with employees on leave, the ins and outs of intermittent leave, and how to maintain confidentiality. Managers should also be encouraged to create a supportive work environment that provides a healthy work-life balance.
#4. Make sure you have a way to report on leave of absences
Having access to real-time data on your leave of absence program has big benefits for HR teams. It can help you structure your team to be more efficient and responsive in managing leaves of absence. If certain departments are being impacted by leaves, you can take action to minimize business disruptions. The insights gained from leave data can also help keep your leave team happy and satisfied in their role. One of the best ways to get access to leave data is by implementing a purpose-built leave management system.
#5. Implement a centralized system for intaking and tracking leaves
The right technology is becoming critically important for effective, modern absence management. A purpose-built system can automate the administrative tasks involved with leave case management, giving team members time back to better support employees going out on leave.
A centralized system can also serve as a single source of truth, providing accurate records of employee leave usage. This allows you to identify patterns and address any potential issues. For employees on intermittent leave, a centralized system can help everyone easily track time taken.
A robust, supportive absence management program can pay off big dividends for an organization. A well-run leave program can improve productivity, retention, and provide a better employee experience for everyone.
Having the right policies, manager training, data access, and technology can help you create a strong foundation for a successful absence management strategy.
A recent study by Guardian found that 6 out of 10 organizations that take a proactive approach to reducing absenteeism report positive results. They found measurable impacts on retention, a reduction in direct costs, and improvements in the employee experience. If you’d like to learn more in detail about best practices for modern leave management, download our comprehensive guide for HR. You can also watch our webinar replay where our leave experts discuss ways to “level up” your leave program.
If you are ready to see how technology can improve your leave management program, schedule a demo of AbsenceSoft today.