What employers need to know about employee leave

When it comes to employee leave, experience is everything. Find out more from Jen Small, Voya’s leader of Absence and Statutory products.

From unexpected health emergencies and maternity/paternity leaves, to time away from work to care for aging relatives and more, there are a wide variety of reasons employees may need to take extended time off. 

Just as wide in variety is the way that leave will look for the employee. They may be paid, partially paid, or not paid at all. They may have opportunities in common with others in their state—such as Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave—or they may also have something different, depending on their employer. 

Employee leave is complex. And while offering options to replace income is a great start, it’s only the beginning. With that in mind, Voya embarked on qualitative research with over 30 employees from a variety of backgrounds who had recently experienced leave to understand what makes the employee leave experience successful.1 Here are a few of the key findings: 

Employees want support and education—and will turn to their employer for it first

“Support is number one when it comes to employee leave,” said Jen Small, Voya’s leader of Absence and Statutory products. “It’s why they will stay with an employer.”

The first place they’re likely to look for that support and education is the employee handbook, according to Small. “They’ll turn to the handbook, they’ll turn to the employer intranet, and then they’ll turn to their manager,” Small continued. “Then if the manager doesn’t know, they’ll go to HR. That’s the single source of truth for the support they need.”

Unfortunately, in many cases that search is filled with frustration. Which leads to the next key finding...

Employees typically struggle to find information that is clear and comprehensive

“The information that is available is fairly inconsistent among employers, and some of that has to do with a lack of expertise,” Small said. “Companies are leaner, they’re trying to automate more functions, and the HR professionals dealing with leave have less experience.”

These HR professionals may turn to their employee benefits brokers for help, but they, too, are facing challenges. “The leave industry is becoming so complex,” Small said. “It’s hard to keep on top of everything, and the typical employer or broker may not have the resources to do it.”

Over 40% of large (1,000+ employees) employers currently outsource their leave, according to the 2020 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey,2 and that complexity is one of the biggest reasons why, Small said. Another important reason is to ensure a consistent, empathetic, high-quality process and experience—the importance of which is illustrated in the next key finding.

A negative employee experience can create a poor perception of the employer

There are a number of factors associated with an employee’s leave experience, but perhaps the most important is the support that the employee receives from their supervisor, according to the Voya research. This includes things like empathy and setting clear expectations, as well as a defined leave process and clear plan about the employee’s return.

Even if they had a positive perception of their employer before their leave, if the process wasn’t defined or they didn’t have support from their supervisor, the Voya research found that they were more likely to have their positive view of their employer decrease.

The leave administrator's role is also very important, according to Small. “This administrator is handling very private medical information. They have access to the employee’s salary. And employees can feel very sensitive about it,” Small said. “And if that experience doesn’t go well—for example, if the vendor’s case specialist never calls them back—then it can make them look at their employer negatively.”

The return-to-work experience is as important as the leave

Finally, it’s important for employers to remember that the transition back to work is important too, according to the Voya research. “When people realize their coworker has returned to work, the floodgates open,” Small said. “Many don’t realize that as they’re transitioning back they’re not just trying to catch up—they’re also dealing with a new buildup of work from people who are excited about their return.”

This is an all-too-familiar feeling for Small, who recently returned from her own leave and shared tips to help employers support an employee who is returning to work. “When a person returns to work, the misconception is that they’re rested and ready to jump back in,” Small said. “That’s not always the case. No matter what the circumstances were around the leave, there will be a period of re-adjustment when the employee returns.” 

“Providing the right support before, during and after leave is crucial to preserving employee satisfaction,” Small says. “Employers can start by supplying clear and adequate information to employees related to their leave; offering an empathetic, easy-to-follow process that’s appropriate to the employee’s unique situation; ensuring that the front-line support the employee receives from their supervisor is effective; and ensuring that the employee experiences a successful return.”

Find out how Voya supports employers and employees throughout the leave process, or contact your Voya representative for more information.    

Voya Leave Management services are provided in part by Disability RMS, Inc.

Disability Income Insurance is issued and underwritten by ReliaStar Life Insurance Company (Minneapolis, MN) and ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York (Woodbury, NY). Within the State of New York, only ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York is admitted, and its products issued. Both are members of the Voya® family of companies. Voya Employee Benefits is a division of both companies. Product availability and specific provisions may vary by state.

1Voya Financial Proprietary Research conducted in October 2020; included 30 in depth interviews with individuals who had recently returned to work after experiencing a leave.

22020 Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) Employer Leave Management Survey Whitepaper. Survey completed by 793 employers who collectively represent all organizational sizes, U.S. states, and a broad range of industries.