You care about your employees and want them to take extended time off when they need it. It’s not something they should have to navigate alone. So you offer a variety of leave of absence (LOA) benefits and promote them internally. Yet, your employees still don’t know about or haven’t been able to appreciate what you offer. If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone.

In a recent study of new parents, Unum discovered that:

  • 32% of new parents didn’t understand FMLA before having a child.
  • 38% of new parents didn’t understand short-term disability before having a child.

The problem is employees don't understand the types of leave you offer. This all starts with being able to improve communication at all levels of the company. If employees don't understand the benefits they're offered, they can’t access them quickly when they need time away from work. And if employees don’t know what you’re offering them, they won’t fully understand how valuable your benefits are.

The challenge

Communicating the types of leaves you offer — as well as the complex details around eligibility and the impact on pay and benefits — is a challenge to say the least. It’s even more complicated now that remote employees are spreading out to states with their own leave statutes. It’s even getting down to a city and county level in some states. Now communicators must explain how company leave benefits and state benefits work together.

It's important to be clear what the difference is between voluntary leave and mandatory leave. A mandatory leave is one that is required at the federal, state or local level, like FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) or jury duty. A voluntary leave is one a company offers at its discretion. It allows you to take leave for things like going back to school full time, taking a sabbatical or even bereavement. For a better look at these, the National Library of Medicine has a great chart that breaks this down even more.

There are a lot of benefits to offering both voluntary and mandatory leave options within your benefits package:

  1. Productivity can increase.
  2. Job morale could be greater, helping improve overall company culture.
  3. People might be happier and more satisfied with their jobs.
  4. Retention can increase and turnover will, in turn, lessen.

Educate everyone

The U.S. is the one of the only developed countries that doesn’t require paid leave mandated by the government. Because of this, companies must be willing to show people how much they matter. Allow them to take extended time off now and then. People are happier when they know they’re taken care of. Employees need to feel like they can take time off when they need it.

Giving employees a link to a guide that happens to have LOA benefits in it isn’t enough. It’s so important to clarify what each benefit is and how they can help each person. Many employers see a leave of absence as a financial loss. However, it can be cost-effective in the long term.

We have another blog post that goes into more depth on some best practices to communicate a leave internally. The tips and information we provide there will help you create a great internal communication strategy. Don't be afraid to ask for employee feedback on the things they don't understand. Also, ask where you can improve on your communication skills as a company. This can help determine where time is worth spending when it comes to internal comms.

Smart solutions

Just communicating with employees about what leave is, the different reasons they might need it and how it will impact their pay isn’t always enough. For best results, your internal communication should allow employees to find what they need, when they need it. Employee engagement is crucial when communicating these benefits. It helps to keep a dialogue going and not just talking AT employees.

Consider these out-of-the-box solutions:
  • LOA life events. One thing we always recommend is to add life events to your benefits website or guides. When most people are requesting a leave of some kind, it’s surrounding a specific event going on in their life (e.g., having a baby, adoption, a loved one’s death, an injury of some sort). People don’t want to search through their benefits when they’re trying to hold their life together. They want to know what they need to do and who to call for help based on that life event.
  • Leave checklists. Having a checklist is a GREAT way to be sure employees know what needs to be done beforehand, during and after their leave. No one wants to leave anything to chance especially when it comes to their job, getting paid and ensuring they can come back when things are settled. This can include things like what to expect, how the employee will be paid based on the leave, paperwork to be filled out, etc.
  • Manager leave guide. Creating a guide or a quick review document for your managers is a great way to empower everyone in the company. When an employee has questions about a specific benefit, it can sometimes be intimidating to reach out to HR with those questions. Sometimes employees are more comfortable reaching out to their direct manager for help instead since they work with them every day.

    Giving your managers access to something that outlines each benefit and how they can respond to employees with questions is a great communication tool. This way, when an employee requests leave, managers can be involved in the process and help the employee understand what kind of leave they might need. They can also better answer quick questions about eligibility and what happens before, during and after leave.
  • Implement our Interactive LOA tool. Here at PartnerComm, we’re in the process of developing an LOA tool that can help anyone determine what leave they’d need and how to request that leave based on their specific situation. The tool can help an employee figure out if they're even eligible for a specific benefit before they come to you with their request. With how often laws change and with remote work being as prevalent as it is within the workforce, we wanted to have a central place and tool people can use to look at their options. It can be personalized based on their location too.

Key takeaways

Good communication doesn't just pertain to open enrollment, profit news or a new product or service your company now provides. It has to start from within to allow employees to feel like they know what's going on. No one knows what might happen in life. It's too unpredictable. And searching for your LOA benefits during a difficult time is the last thing any of us wants to do. So we should better prepare employees and all their team members for these times too. Ensuring your employees know what to do and when before a leave of absence can be tricky, but it’s worth it in the end.