Hear DMEC subject matter experts Terri L. Rhodes, Kristin Jones, and Jess Dudley talk about what they learned during the four-day conference, what surprised them, and the valuable resources they’re already using in this episode.
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DMEC: You welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, as we're known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 18,000 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you'll visit firstname.lastname@example.org to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes., and we're talking about the:
Terri Rhodes: Thank you, Heather. I'm sitting here like, oh, what is the one thing? Because there were so many. And I think if I had to have one takeaway, it was the overarching message of equity in benefits and making sure that as all of the paid family and medical leave legislation is occurring that we're also thinking about the impact that those benefits have on employees who may not live in a state where that legislation has occurred.
Heather Grimshaw: That's such a wonderful point because it was woven throughout all of the sessions and frankly, throughout the four days. So, Kristen, do you want to maybe go next?
Kristen Jones: Sure. I say this tongue in cheek, but I'll elaborate and it really is a genuine response [when I say], it depends. We joke about that in our sessions because we have so many legal presenters, and as lawyers, they get really detailed questions or sometimes questions that don't have the details they need. And we joke that sometimes the fallback answer is it depends. But on a serious note, I think that really illustrates [the fact that] all of this depends. Everything that we do in these cases, keeping in mind, the broad applications and guardrails, but then looking at everything case by case, and I know that's not a new concept, but I think it increases in importance the more things we have to factor in. There's so much changing, there's so much coming into play in this landscape. And so I think that is just a continued thread that is, we always need that reminder of it depends. We want the silver bullet, we want the simple answer and unfortunately that doesn't exist. But that's why we focus so much on the education we put out there for people and continuing to update that and get it out. So to me that's the big takeaway and the big reminder of just really, you cannot, no matter what rules or checklists you put in a place, you're never going to get away from that case by case analysis.
Heather Grimshaw: I like that. And I also like the fact that so many of the speakers gave or presented the issue and then shared some solutions and all of them were, to your point, that case by case analysis.
Kristin Jones: Yeah, they definitely utilized a lot of scenarios and examples and I think that was really illustrative to see how that can really be utilized, how we can do that case-by-case analysis. So it's not just we say it depends and then leave people to figure it out on their own. I think our presenters did such a nice job of, and let me show you how we can do that or what that looks like or give you some examples and scenarios. So they did such a good job of that, but really kept bringing it back home, too. But you're going to have to do your own analysis, either with or without whatever resources you have at your disposal, tap into those and utilize them. But this is going to be something that if you want it to be defensible, you're going to need to do continuously.
Heather Grimshaw: Absolutely. Okay. Jess, how about you? What are you willing to share with us?
Jess Dudley: Well, I kind of jump off the point that both Kristin and Terri make. There's a lot of unique things going on out there and there's a lot where I agree that “it depends” is definitely there. So I was thinking about it kind of from the perspective of a few different sessions that I listened to, and one of them that I listened to was the gig workers, remote workers and more. And I've been enjoying this perk of hybrid and work schedule from working from home now for years. And maybe selfishly, I hadn't stopped to look at it wholly from an employer perspective or from the perspective of an employee that doesn't have that benefit. So while I've been sitting back and enjoying my flexibility and the time savings and the convenience that all of work from home is for me, I haven't thought about the employers and all the worries that they've had and the effects of their workplace culture and the state laws that apply and who's covered with which benefits and as the new laws roll out, they've had to track them and are there accommodation issues and how are they handling them? So they've had all that additional air quotes here, fun, and then they've also had the quiet quitting, and worrying about their workplace wellness. Mental health has been on the rise, so they've had a lot to figure out and to deal with. And they've been doing this all while I've just been sitting back enjoying work from home. So while I know that our industry has changed considerably in the last several years and I wasn't oblivious to pain points that are going on in the industry and other industries as well, I think our conference was a good reminder that we've all been affected in one way or another and we're all moving forward in the best way that we can. It's just going to look and feel different, I think, for each industry or company.
Heather Grimshaw: That's a great point, Jess. And I do think that one of the things that I love most about the conference is hearing some of the questions that come in. Kristin always does a great job of providing context with those questions, and that certainly came through with the questions from the audience and the attendees about the different challenges that they're facing on a constant basis.
Kristin Jones: Yeah, there's always so many good questions. And I think for me, in the position of moderating the questions, I always think it's really interesting just to see what comes to mind first for people when they're in the sessions. Because obviously I have my own perspective in the role that I have now and from prior roles that I have held in industries that I have been in. But I love just seeing what really comes up, what bubbles up for people. I thought the conversation or the questions and just the discussion afterwards that came up around a session we had around leave expansion was so interesting because they did such a nice job of really covering the recent trends and expansions like what we've seen around additional bereavement Leave protections, expanding family member definitions, pregnancy protections and things like that. But then they took it a step further and posed some really thoughtful considerations around those things that really, I think, people, not everyone realized these were kind of questions they had to look at and it really does vary state by state and they did such a nice job. It's such a good takeaway. I made sure I download all of the presentations because they're such good resources, but I love this one. It has some pretty clear [pointers on] is there a waiting period? And then they listed out the states that do and don't have those. And then does that waiting period take away from the employees time on their leave, and they have the columns where you can look back to and it's important to know, of course, that will change, but I think it's so important to know what questions to even ask. And they really went in depth and explored pregnancy extenders and how to manage those and the equivalent family member definitions. They really did kind of a deeper dive into some of those tricky things that to Jess’s point employers are really grappling with now. And there were questions that came in around those things and the way we were able to dive into some of those topics and some of those considerations I thought was really great to see.
Heather Grimshaw: So one of the things, too, that I always find interesting is because I try and float in between sessions when possible, and there were some literally standing-room-only rooms for some of these sessions and all of them were packed. And Terri, I think you were standing or sitting in one of those rooms and graciously got up so that some folks could sit down and participate. And I think I know that some of those conversations that probably are the most valuable happen after the sessions. I saw people, lines of people queuing up to talk to speakers and ask questions and then groups of attendees gathering to chat too, after the sessions, which is always, I think, an incredible value for these conferences, in-person conferences, I should say.
Terri Rhodes: Yeah, this is Terri, I think the beauty of our conferences, in addition to just the networking that occurs organically in the exhibit halls, is those roundtable discussions because it really is a true sharing of what an individual employer might be doing or what they might be considering and asking for feedback and getting feedback. For example, I was in the paid-time-off (PTO) session and there was a woman who was in the process of having to change some policies on their paid time off program and they were considering, do we go back to the legacy sick time, vacation time, or do we keep a PTO program? What were the pros and cons? And there was a significant amount of feedback [from] people who had done that. And then we were able to say, oh, that question is in our benchmarking survey, by the way. So it was timely and it gave that individual immediate resources on a policy that she was considering having to change. So that's the power in attending the conference, in attending those roundtables.
Kristin Jones: If I could just add on, Terri, I think that's a really great point. I love how you brought in the benchmarking, like how you were able to provide that as a suggested resource for someone, because I don't know if everyone knows this too. I mean, in that instance, it was already a question we're asking in our survey. But we come together after a conference internally in the DMEC team and talk about, what do we need to be thinking about as far as what people need, what people are asking, what they're struggling with that we can do either add on to or make sure we're bringing into our education. And a part of that is a lot of times we hear at conferences what people are asking other folks, what do you have in your policy around this? Or what are you doing around that? And then we have an opportunity to come back and say, are we asking those types of questions in our Leave Management survey, in our benchmarking survey, whichever might be the most appropriate? Are we really getting at those questions that people are wanting to be able to look back to, to compare themselves and their organizations against? And I don't know if people always realize that those are kinds of the things that we're listening for and bringing back with us when we come back from a conference as well.
Heather Grimshaw: I think that's really powerful, that feedback loop and that ability to listen and respond, that was one of the things that I heard throughout the conference, is that active listening and the importance to really not only meet with and communicate with your employees, but also to listen carefully. One speaker said listen not only to gather information, but to hear. So extending that one step further to make sure that you're connecting on a different level. And I think DMEC does that really well. Certainly with the DMEC communities, that's an opportunity for members to chime in, ask questions, share their own experiences and guidance, which is just a wonderful resource to learn from your colleagues and peers.
Jess Dudley: I agree. And I like how we had the roundtables discussion and everybody could share their experience. And that with the conferences, you can ask the questions right then and there at the end of them. But another thing I really like is when we bring employers in to kind of share what they've done. So not only can they hear what they're supposed to do or what they can do, but they can hear what somebody has done and kind of the impact that it's had from it. I have a little bit of a crush on Melissa Kirkland from Darden. She was so great. But they're hiring from in their communities and they're giving opportunities to everyone that they employ. They're promoting from within. I love that. And I think they're talking the talk, but they're also walking the walk. So they're benefiting their staff as well as their company. They've got their employees engaged and they're sharing ideas and how things can be better. And the business is growing. And I think employees that feel heard and are invested in a company are willing and a company is working more with them than them. Just working for a company. I think that pride in oneself and the company. That's so impactful.
Heather Grimshaw: I also wanted to ask you all if there was anything that surprised you or made you think differently about an industry issue, whether that's, again, through these amazing sessions or something that you heard about or were discussing with a colleague during the conference, Kristin, maybe you can kick us off and then we'll go full circle.
Kristin Jones: Sure. All the sessions were so great, so it's hard to really narrow down. But I think the one that really took me down a path that I hadn't expected on the topic was a session we had on the Dobbs decision. They really looked at this landmark case through the lens of an employer and what it really meant to align their policies and programs with the employers, with various objectives an employer might have. But I thought they did a really nice job of remaining sensitive on a really volatile topic, but also just laying out so many different options for employers and considerations that I hadn't really thought of before. And they really explored each of those around the risk that it might carry, the pros and cons. And they talked about from a lot of different aspects, from leave laws themselves, what might be covered and might not be covered. They talked about mental health considerations. But really where I thought it just really went to a new level was the benefit considerations. And it just made me think about that case in a totally different way and at level like a depth that I hadn't really thought of before, when all the different areas that factored in.
Jess Dudley: I agree with that. There are so many benefits to look at. There's the group health plan coverage or the lack of, there's the travel benefits whether it's broad or narrow, tax implications, state law considerations, ERISA, privacy protections. I mean, it's a big topic to start with and all those additional considerations that employers are faced with. It's kind of eye opening to me.
Terri Rhodes: Yeah, I think I would agree, too, that we get so singularly focused sometimes thinking about absence and not really looking through that wider lens of what is the whole impact of a decision like Dobbs, not just on employee absence, but how does all of the other benefit offerings that an employer might have impact a decision such as that? So that was eye opening and I thought really well done and explained in a layperson's terms as well. So it was really good.we are looking forward to the: