Workforce trends have evolved significantly over the past few years, as COVID-19, social upheaval and economic uncertainty have led to changes in what workers expect. A recent study found that 59% of U.S. employers didn’t feel fully prepared to meet their employees’ changing needs and expectations. However, employers with formal leave and disability management programs felt more prepared to support these shifting employee needs.
The study, Keeping Pace With Employee Expectations: The Role of Leave and Disability Management -conducted by an independent research and polling firm on behalf of The Standard – used data collected in 2018 and 2022 to measure how employers viewed their efforts to manage leave and disability.
The employers with formal programs did see a rise in factors that signal a more satisfied workforce. Those factors included greater employee retention, stronger morale, higher productivity and lower absenteeism. Retention improved significantly among employers with formal programs in 2022. The number of employers with formal leave or disability programs reporting greater retention rose more than 25% since 2018.
The research also shows that workers’ requests for reasonable accommodations rose for most conditions, including chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. Time was the most typical adjustment provided by employers, as 75% said they modified a work schedule or granted leave. Brenda Smith, senior director of Workplace Possibilities SM at The Standard, said, “This finding doesn’t surprise me. During the pandemic, flexibility from employers emerged as key for U.S. workers. People were dealing with kids attending school from home and helping aging parents. Employees no longer view flexibility as a nice-to-have.”
On the behavioral health front, the report shows that secrecy and stigma continue to be challenges. The research reveals a 32% increase since 2018 in employers who reported a stigma attached to people with mental health conditions. Seventy percent of employers said their greatest challenge in supporting employees with mental health issues was workers hiding their conditions. This was a slight increase from 2018.
The study shows mixed findings on employers’ confidence in their ability to manage leave and disability. While confidence improved since 2018, less than 50% of employers said they felt very confident about how their company managed absence and disability in 2022. However, employers with formal programs were better positioned in this area. On average, employers with leave management programs were 31% more likely to report feeling very confident they were handling absence well. Those with programs for managing disability were, on average, 43% more likely to say the same thing about their performance.
Return-to-work and stay-at-work programs were a prime source of optimism among employers. In 2022, employers with return-to-work and stay-at-work programs generally reported that these programs were the most successful of the ones they offered. The number of employers reporting this increased 29% since 2018.