The Consumerization of Leave Management: 8 Trends to Follow in 2017

posted on June 21st 2017 in Employment & News & Retention

A consumer-like environment in the workplace is not just the expectation of a Millennial mindset. Researchers at MIT have found that a preference for social, mobile, and collaborative tools crosses all age demographics (1). Innovative tools and techniques are evolving in all areas of the workplace and leave management is no exception. From consumer-oriented technologies to ease the administration of statutory leave compliance to employee well-being and support resources, the impact on the employee and employer is significant. This blog will highlight the top 10 trends we have seen emerging for 2017.

Trend #1: Mobilization of Claims Processing

Many disability carriers now provide mobile apps for users to easily submit, track, and manage short-term disability (STD) claims. Even state programs are making the move to mobile, with California’s Employment Development Department recently launching a mobile claims submission option. Mobilization facilitates self-service and employees experiencing a personal and significant life event benefit from policy transparency and easy access to benefit information.

Trend #2: Increased Employee Satisfaction Data Analytics

An increased need for second generation data analytics and operational insights into the success of leave programs is the second trend to watch in 2017. The integrated absence management (IAM) industry has traditionally focused on the costs of absenteeism, second opinions, and return to work (RTW) programs. While these are good metrics for a leave program’s success, we are now seeing the emergence of employee experience and satisfaction inputs contributing to a more holistic approach to leave planning and administration. The Pacific Gas and Electric company, for example, used a Lean Six Sigma study to identify root causes of employee dissatisfaction and process inefficiencies related to leave administration – thus improving the employee leave experience while reducing operating costs.

Trend #3: Increasing Leave Program Sophistication

A third trend, increased program sophistication, is driving integrated healthcare and disability management as well as automation of the health certification requirement between employers and healthcare providers. Per a Prudential study (2), 65% of all Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) events are also STD claims, so some form of STD/LTD/FMLA integration is within reach for employers with an interest in integration.

Trend #4: Return to Work Resources

Return to work (RTW) can be as critical as the leave planning process. Flexible work arrangements and automatic phase back – allowing new mothers to transition back to work on a part-time schedule – represent the latest trend.

Technology and information-sharing capabilities allow companies to offer returning employees a more flexible and family-friendly schedule. Average internet speeds have tripled since 2011, making video conferencing a convenient and reliable option for the employee experience. Voluntary benefits like tele-lactation consulting, transition coaching, and employee mental health and addiction counseling are moving to this platform. Life Meets Work, a consulting firm, is a good example of the growing interest in these programs and the powerful emerging technology solutions creating efficiencies in leave management.

Job sharing is an early trend among U.S. employers, yet it has grown enough to create a market for companies like Emissaries, which match freelancers to leave fill-in positions. Other companies are designing holistic leave packages to encompass all life event considerations. Working Mother magazine indicates 23% of the 100 companies on its list of the most family-friendly workplaces have some “automatic phase back” benefit to ensure a smooth transition (3).

Trend #5: Using Microlearning For Employee Leave Navigation


The changing regulatory environment surrounding leave regulation and the increasing complexity of benefit utilization is fueling the need for the creation of a Microlearning Learning Management System (LMS) to educate employees and managers. By providing small bursts of information asynchronously, content is easily digested at an employee’s convenience and, ideally, presented to the employee exactly when needed. Microlearning LMSs can help prevent and mitigate manager violations and ensure compliance with laws, regulations, and policies. This approach is emerging within the leave management and compliance space, to not only inform but educate employees on complex processes and is one of the core tenants of the LeaveLogic solution.

Trend #6: Employee (Leave) Assistance

A new study from Pew Research Center shows adults value flexibility as much as paid leave benefits (4). The rise in the number and type of family-friendly benefits further supports this trend and shows employees are looking for assistance beyond paid leave. Many companies have built out their EAP benefits to include services like Torchlight (support for employees caring for aging parents), Milkstork (breastmilk shipping service), and Lucy (providing easy access to health and wellness experts supporting expectant parents). Along with providing benefits, employees need assistance to be aware of and know how to use the benefits.

Trend #7: Family Leave Financing

Whether it is parental leave, elder care, or personal illness, the expense of this event can compound the stressful nature of the life change for the employee. Flexible spending accounts and 401(k)-style savings accounts for family leave are gaining support (5). Benefits such as Care@work help employees manage family care needs, from access to childcare to housekeeping and dog walking.

Trend #8: Consolidation of Leave Benefits

With the complexity of leave compliance increasing, it is anticipated more companies will outsource leave management and consolidate benefits with fewer carriers and vendors. We are already seeing more external solution providers teaming up to help employers to streamline leave management processes and provide more robust employee experiences.

In the past, a key issue for many employers around automating and outsourcing leave administration may have been the lack of mature, integrated solutions that plug into an employer’s existing human capital infrastructure. A stand-alone solution is arguably far less effective than one that integrates/coordinates with existing payroll, time and labor, benefits, and wellness programs. This historical challenge of integration has left some companies to choose to add headcount to address leave complexity, while others have turned to technology partners for more cost-effective solutions such as employee self-serve of leave benefits and to meet the growing customer demand for scalable integrated employee self-serve solutions.

All of the above leave management consumerization trends demonstrate the increased importance of the leave experience for employees. By focusing on the employee leave experience, companies can implement benefits that attract and retain talent, while also improving workplace productivity.


1 Kane GC, D Kiron, D Palmer, AN Phillips, N Buckley. Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation: Becoming a digitally mature enterprise. July 14, 2015, http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/strategy-drives-digital-transformation.

2 The Prudential Insurance Company of America, “The market for integrated health care and disability management: The next frontier in employee benefits,” January, 2007, http://www.prudential.com/media/managed/102184_IHCDMRepnocrops.pdf.

3. J McGregor. A smart way to help mother return to work after maternity leave. Washington Post. May 7, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2015/05/07/a-smart-way-to-ease-mothers-return-to-work-after-maternity-leave/?utm_term=.572e61dde1c9.

4. Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies. (March, 2017). Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/03/23/americans-widely-support-paid-family-and-medical-leave-but-differ-over-specific-policies/.

5. D Paquette. It’s like a retirement account, but for maternity leave. Chicago Tribune April 21, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-personal-care-account-maternity-paternity-leave-20160420-story.html.

Mikaela Kiner

Mikaela is a native Seattleite who’s spent the last fifteen years in HR leadership roles at iconic Northwest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, PopCap Games and Redfin. She has an MS in HR Management with a certificate in Organizational Development and is an ICF credentialed coach. Mikaela delivers results by building trust and engaging her clients in creative problem solving. Clients appreciate her strategic thinking and hands on execution.