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Bucketing Paid Leaves Gives Employees More Flexibility and Support
Episode 1315th September 2022 • Absence Management Perspectives • DMEC
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More employers are questioning how they create time away programs that are meaningful to employee populations of all ages and backgrounds. Listen in as Ali Schaafsma, senior absence consultant with Brown and Brown Strategic Non-Medical Solutions, and Rachel Foster, lead specialist II with CHG Healthcare, talk about how bucketing leaves can empower employees to take the time they need to maintain a work-life balance in this episode of Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast.


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Heather Grimshaw: Hello, and welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. I'm Heather Grimshaw, communications manager for DMEC, and we're going to talk about futureproofing absence management programs today. This concept of futureproofing was the focus of a roundtable discussion during the 2022 DMEC Virtual Compliance Conference, and I was impressed by references to what some called creative solutioning, which included sabbaticals for employees, four weeks of unpaid leave for new hires who aren't eligible for FMLA if they have serious health conditions, retention bonuses, marriage leave, and compassionate leaves such as fertility and menopause benefits.

We've asked Ali Schaafsma, senior absence consultant with Brown and Brown Strategic Non-Medical Solutions; and Rachel Foster, lead specialist II with CHG Healthcare, to join our discussion and shed light on this creative solutioning concept. Ali facilitated the roundtable discussion on future proofing and Rachel was an active participant. To start us off, I found the following definition of futureproofing to set the stage for our discussion from Collins Dictionary: If you futureproof something, you design or change it so that it will continue to be useful or successful in the future if the situation changes.

I'd like to ask you both for some of your high-level takeaways from the roundtable conversation about futureproofing to get us started. Ali, would you kick us off and then we'll ask Rachel to chime in?

Ali Schaafsma: Absolutely. So I think future proofing has become such an important topic within the industry in the last few years, and certainly we can look to the recent COVID pandemic that has really kind of forced employers to evaluate what their programs look like and how they can accommodate and even taking it to the point of saying, okay, how do I future proof pandemic leave? Right. We know that this is likely to repeat itself in the future. So starting there was the first kind of wave that we saw with employers and then moving into the great resignation and being concerned of how do we attract and retain talent within our organization and what does that look like across the board, across the generations, and how do we really accommodate the various needs of our people and allowing them that work life balance into the future.

Rachel Foster: Yeah, I think I mostly agree with Ally's statements in terms of that generational concept and definitely looking at moving away from the concept of work, work, work as the younger generations enter the workforce. The focus is on that work-life balance and making sure that we are supporting the person holistically in every aspect of their life and as we support the worker through their life and their different occurrences. Through medical childbearing years to taking care of parents to taking care of older children, et cetera. You have to consider that and make sure that you're adjusting and making changes to your program to make it sustainable and to make sure that you can continue to attract and retain talent. So addressing those concerns has been a very big priority for sure.

Heather Grimshaw: So, Rachel, you talked about some of the new benefits CHG Healthcare has introduced that sparked some really interesting conversation during the roundtable, and I was hoping that you would share some of those details as well as what prompted the organization to introduce them.

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Ali Schaafsma: Rachel, I love what you talk about with the employee survey and whether it's an engagement survey or a pinpointed survey, I think that is such a vital step for employers to look at when they're assessing how can we create time away programs that are meaningful to our employees? And that way we're really evaluating our own culture, our own population, because there are times where we think we may know what our culture wants or our population needs, but that may not be accurate. And to address the point of the sick time bucket and being able to really dive into allowing employees to take time away that aren't typically covered under our traditional leave packages, it's really important. We may want to, as an organization, say, okay, as we talked about multigenerational, what do the different generations, what are their outlooks, stage of life. Right. We often focus on maternity packages, which excludes a significant portion of our population, whether it's because I'm in a stage of life that's beyond or prior to or I'm in a generation that isn't as likely that we're seeing less and less pregnancies or maternity requests because we're having less children. So then you bucket that as a sick time, but allow that flexibility to say, hey, this isn't necessarily a vacation day, but we recognize to be inclusive, you may have a need for leave that doesn't fall under traditional programs, and we want you to have that balance. So I love that as an organization. Rachel, your group said, let's bucket that and call it sick time, but allow flexibility so that people can use it without having to tap into the vacation, which is a very different reason for leave.

Heather Grimshaw: I think that's such a nice perspective, Ally, thank you for that. During our earlier conversation, we talked about how larger banks, I think you called it bucketing ally of leave give employers a little bit more flexibility, and it sounded like maybe a little less administrative work on the part of absence management professionals. And I'd love to hear if, first of all, if that's true, if bucketing, these types of leads not only gives employees more flexibility and the ability to use time as they need it, but if it is potentially a little less administrative work.

Ali Schaafsma: I think that large employers are understanding that they need to be more thoughtful about designing their leave programs in several ways. The first is that diversity, that equity, that inclusion, and understanding that there are needs beyond traditional time. Right? But then they have to think about how do we administer this in a compliant fashion and what parameters do we need to put around that? Right? So I think that there's a lot of things to consider for an employer. And what we're seeing with a lot of larger employers right now is their main focus is on their paid time off programs. And back to the term I used, bucketing is saying, okay, our traditional buckets are sick time, vacation time, maybe some flexible days, holidays. But then how do we take those and make them more flexible while maintaining compliance? I think that can get a little bit difficult. But I want to also make a point when we talk about bucketing is that, again, if we think about the different types of things that people really, truly need time for, beyond I have a serious health condition, my family has a serious health condition. Bereavement is things like onesie, twosie mental health days. I may not have a diagnosis, but I need some time away, right? So what does that look like? Menopause is a huge focus for people and women's health because it goes beyond, “I don't have a serious health condition, but I'm going through a stage of life that I may need additional things.” So I think that we know anecdotally a large employer can't possibly have menopause leave, mental health leave, all those different types of leaves as a package, right. But what they could do is define a larger package as compassionate leave, allow it to be fairly open with maybe some parameters, and then that way it's separate of compliance with specific sick time laws and paid family medical leave laws potentially, but then they can market it as we want you to take that work life balance. So I think that marketing becomes important for that package and allows a little bit more flexibility without having to worry about compliance as much.

Rachel Foster: Yeah, and I love that point. And having these separate buckets oftentimes, especially as companies launch into like an unlimited PTO program, having a separate distinction in the separate buckets can seem like an old school way of administering these separate time off allowances. But I think that it's really important because it offers employees the autonomy to just say I'm taking a sick day. Whereas if you say like, hey, I'm taking PTO, that might prompt your coworkers unintentionally asking like, what are you taking PTO for? Oh, are you doing something fun? Or what's going on? Well, then you're kind of feeling pressured to tell them something that maybe you don't necessarily need to. Like, I'm having a really bad day with menopause or I'm having just a tough mental health day. So I love the distinguish or the distinction of the sick day to say I'm taking a sick day to allow you to have that space. I need to be able to have this time as a functioning adult and don't necessarily need to tell you what's going on in my life unless it's something obviously more specific that's a serious medical condition. It gives people that day or two here or there to take that opportunity, which I really appreciate.

Heather Grimshaw: I think that's such a good point and I love it that you said functioning adult because I do think that that autonomy and the ability to say this is something that I need for myself is so important. And it's really interesting to hear that unintended consequence of saying if you put something into that pay time off umbrella or bucket, then oftentimes it does allow or people think it does allow them to ask why.

Ali Schaafsma: Yeah, I think that the functioning adult and Rachel, you use the term old school, which I think employers are looking to get away from that really hypermanaged leave. And we want all the documentation we need to understand why does it qualify? And getting into we're working with mostly reasonable, rational adults, right? And the reality is that we don't need to know every single time that they're away from work why. And it doesn't need to be. We need documentation. We are seeing employers kind of look into a term we call speed of trust, which is at some point we need to recognize that we need to relax the requirements and trust that our employees are doing what's right to care for themselves so that when they come back to the work environment, they are ready to go because we allow them that flexibility. But we are also saying, I trust you, employee, to do what's right for you and for work.

Heather Grimshaw: I love that. And that leads me perfectly into my next question, which is how employers are or whether employers are using some of these generous leaves to recruit as well as to retain. And the comment about the speed of trust and I'm using air quotes here, is I think, really important and incredibly valuable for people to know that their employers do trust them. And so I wonder, Rachel, as CHG has introduced these different types of leave, if the organization is using these leaves to recruit and retain, is that something that you all have considered or might consider in the future?

Rachel Foster: Yeah, definitely. I know we have various benefits that are listed online when looking at job postings that are available. I think one of those benefits that's really highlighted is the volunteer time off that we offer because we do care so much about our communities and the various communities that we have employees residing. And we really want the employee to feel as if they're supported, in supporting their own community and what's important to them. So I know for sure that's definitely a huge benefit that is highlighted. But along with the actual hiring process being in the leads department, we will frequently have our talent acquisition. Our recruiters reach out to us and say, like, hey, this is kind of the situation that this potential recruiter is looking at or that they're facing in the near future. Is this something that we can accommodate? Is this something that you can discuss with them that you can address? And I on many occasions have talked to a candidate who was not anywhere in the formal hiring process, just simply interviewing and just in that process and have talked to them about their medical concerns, their concerns. And I have this procedure coming up with this potentially be something that's covered. And I'd say that's a pretty standard practice of talking to those candidates and reassuring them that if you are offered this position and if you do accept it, you are taken care of. We want those employees to feel that reassurance. So I absolutely think that's a huge part of our hiring process is making sure that those employees feel supported in every aspect that they possibly could.

Ali Schaafsma: Yeah, absolutely. You talked about that volunteer time away, and I know I don't have the exact percentage. Gallup I know recently did a pool of several employees to evaluate what are some of the most important things employees are looking for from an employer. And part of that response, one of the top ten things is that social responsibility, it's kind of all put underneath the guise of, again, what I refer to as the diversity, equity, inclusion. And that is I want to know that my employer has socially responsible mindset, including allowing me to take that time. We're definitely seeing that with Gen Z’ers. That's such an important factor for them. So I think that's fantastic that, again, I have a personality and a life outside of my work, and I want my work to be able to allow me to be able to be involved in activities that are really important to me on a social level.

Heather Grimshaw: Rachel, I'm wondering from your perspective how that bucket not only helps employees take the time they need. But if it does also benefit the administrative team as well?

Rachel Foster: The biggest part is the autonomy that it offers the employee to say. I need this day a little bit of a more of a hassle. I guess. Administratively. Just in terms of implementing it. Setting aside those pay codes. Making sure that employees have access to it. Those sorts of things. Obviously there was work that went into that. But as far as the actual administration day to day of an employee taking sick time, there hasn't been a huge increase in work on the leaves department. And I don't think there really has been that big of an increase in kind of that heavy lifting on the employees and either. So it's kind of been one of those things where it was launched and it's been successful and it's really done what it's needed to.

Ali Schaafsma: Yeah. Rachel, I think that what you've done within the hospital makes so much sense in a lot of reasons, especially if you think about compliance. Right. Because one thing you said was, if I want a onesie Tuesday, I don't have to get the permission of my manager. So that's a benefit to the employee. And as long as employers are creating policies that outline some of those flexibilities and they're considering the amount that's within that particular bucket, if that bucket is in size is at least as good, if not better than the most generous sick leave policy or excuse me, sick leave law. And then I open up my reasons to say, listen, this is a sick leave bank, but if you're just taking a day off to take your pet to the vet. You created a policy that is going to match any of the most beneficial sick leave laws and now it does reduce a bit of the administrative burden because now I'm not having to worry OK, where is this employee located? Do I need to give them more time? Is this reason qualified under that particular law that takes away a lot of that burden? So I think that you all it sounds like you've done a great job, Rachel, of really kind of opening that up so that now you don't have to hyper focus on the compliance. You're likely compliant with the vast majority of sick laws.

Rachel Foster: Exactly. And the time frame I think you hit the nail in the head with it's limited. Right. It's not an unlimited sick time thing. The cap that we have matches the elimination period, a standard elimination period of five days. So it gives the employee that time but also does set some sort of boundary on it of saying if you need more time than this, that is a larger discussion. That is something that from a compliance standpoint there are certain practices that we have to follow is putting a limit on it that matches your practices. Compliance based on state as well as the need of the employee is really what makes it a functional program.

Ali Schaafsma: Putting that limit is so perfect because we all have to be mindful of the really big guy FMLA. Right. So we need to get our employees down that track at some point and that's when we can start driving out. Okay, did you just take five days off to take your pet to the vet? And that's how we need to have a conversation versus now it is actually a serious health condition of you or a family member, what have you and making sure that we take the appropriate steps there for compliance purposes. So yeah, I agree.

Rachel Foster: Yeah, exactly. And being able to set that time limit of okay, you've been out for three days consecutively, we need to pursue this. You can use that time. That sick time as that buffer to help you with the elimination period. But exactly that before the formal benefits of paid time off or salary continuance as we offer it here at Chg disability as those kick in that buffer of getting you there while saying hey. This is what the limit is and then you need to really loop us in and get us involved.

Heather Grimshaw: That's an interesting balance too, I would think, between ensuring that someone has the time he or she needs to take care of their own health as well as the health of their families and then also have that separate paid time off for vacation. And on the other side of the spectrum, if and when there are serious medical health issues that they can tap into those other leaves, those formal leaves. One of the things that was discussed earlier is the concept of ensuring that people are taking the time they need when they need it for the specific issues they need to address. So in other words, you all have mentioned whether it's taking care of a four legged family member or a pet and having that separate sick time to do what they need to do and then also having vacation time. And I think one of the interesting components that was discussed a little bit is really ensuring that people take that time and aren't afraid that they're going to return to a landslide of work and really feel supported in taking that time. So I did want to see if you all would weigh in a little bit on that in terms of what managers and employers can do to ensure that their people are taking the time they need and really feel supported in doing that.

Rachel Foster: Yeah, and one thing I really like about the sick time that we offer is that the employee is able to code the time themselves. It's not something that they have to approach their manager with and giving the employee the ability to really determine for themselves, this is what I need to code on this day and this is how I'm going to manage my own time I think helps in that sense and it has been really impactful.

Ali Schaafsma: Yeah. And I think some of the things that are going to be really important as employers look to be able to expand these types of benefits. One, where are you at with your culture? What is your culture look like? Are you in a space where you're trying to change your culture? And I think for several employers, the answer is yes. We need to change the culture of how people view taking time away. So that's step one. How do we create that culture of care and support if we are truly wanting our employees to take time off under these various types of topics we're talking about? So step one. Step two is marketed. Don't spend a bunch of time creating all of these great things and telling your employees having these great benefits if you're not going to spend a lot of time advertising it. Because that tells me as an employee, oh my gosh, my employer wants me to take time away. So we need to have that advertisement across the board training for the supervisors to say, supervisors you want, model the behavior. One. And two, encourage the behavior in an appropriate way. What does that look like? I think that's so important. Too often we create these beautiful benefit packages and then we forget to remind people what they are and for the reasons we want them. I know there was a beautiful story about a large organization and I can't recall which it was, but they were really struggling, as many of us are, with just mental health and the CEO during a large event spoke to the employees to say, I myself have been struggling with mental health and I needed to seek out help, one, to take some time away. And just that alone was such a huge impact on that organization because they're hearing it from the top down, and that's important in that advertising to really say, we have a culture of care and support and here are the great things that we offer you and we want you to use in an appropriate and responsible way.

Rachel Foster: Exactly. That's a great point that it really is top down. Unfortunately, our CEO recently lost his father this year and we increased our bereavement benefit from five days to ten days. And he didn't shy away from letting everyone know, like, hey, I lost my father. My father was a huge person in my life. Was incredibly meaningful to me. And the relationship was meaningful. And I'm going to take this time and it really is that letting your people know we are all human. We all have these things come up. And I'm going to take advantage of the time that we offer to take care of myself. And I strongly encourage you to do that as well. Don't push through something you don't feel like you need to push through or can push through. Having that desire, I think, is kind of in all of us who are motivated and who are passionate about the work that we do. But taking care of yourself and your mental health is absolutely a priority, and it extends to all aspects of our life. So having that leadership portray that and to having them be so open about it is incredibly impactful. One of the things that I really appreciate about our company is, like you mentioned, Ally, they don't shy away from marketing it. We have obviously our open enrollment meetings every year where our benefits director and Hopkins is wonderful about really highlighting these amazing programs that we have. And then shortly thereafter, we have our annual roadshow where our CEO, Scott Beck, goes and presents to every single office across all populations and again, highlights those benefits in case they were missed. And then on top of those two annual occurrences, we also have companywide monthly check ins where Scott, along with various executives within our company, again continue to bring up these benefits and highlight them and acknowledge the ways in which they are using them and they are respecting themselves and putting them forth in their work. As an employee, it's huge to see that support and it's amazing. And I think as somebody who administers leave, I can absolutely see the impact of that. I can definitely see that people take advantage of programs and who are more willing to step forward and say, I need this. When they see that example from senior leadership within their company, these are really.

Heather Grimshaw: Powerful examples of how meaningful that is to do. And during the Annual Conference, one of the themes was it's important to model the behavior that you want employees to emulate. And taking that time away is one of the ways you can do that without checking email, without following up on things during that vacation. And it was interesting to look around the room and see almost everyone nodding their heads like, yeah, I do that, I do that. I check email when I'm on vacation or if I'm sick. And so I do think that it is a process and certainly an evolution, but it's good to hear that it's happening. And so I'm wondering how or when this kind of creative solution is started and if Covet prompted employers to look differently or to look at their benefits differently, as some have suggested. Ally, if you would kick us off and Rachel, I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

Ali Schaafsma: I think COVID definitely made the wave a lot bigger than it had been. I think it definitely changed the way employers and employees thought about their work life balance. But I don't want to miss the fact that I think it was a little bit before too. I think there were some really creative employers out there and I think that was just part of it's been an employee market for a little while, and so how do we keep up and attract the best talent in our areas? And I think that I don't want to not give kudos to Gen Zers for the fact that they're requiring it. And so it started a little bit before. I think COVID made it really big. I think that maybe some organizations went a little over the top with certain types of benefits that we may see, like the paternity and maternity and maybe kind of pulling back attention in some areas. But I think we're going to see employers move forward with just being more creative and ensuring that they're creating that balance across all of their different types of workers.

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Ali Schaafsma: Yeah, Rachel, you just hit on one of the most important components of this for employers as well in order to maintain that future proofing for these types of leaves. Be mindful of where the spend is, is making sure you're looking at your data. Right? So once I've put it in, who's using it, how are they using it, and look at that yearly, just like we do with our other lease programs, right. Because we want to make sure to keep it relevant and keep it effective for all parties involved. We need to know what the data is. So I do encourage employers that do find ways to track and monitor this at a higher level so that you can then say this program may need some Tweaking this year. This program may not be what our population needed, so let's remove that and so on and so forth and continue that survey data as well, to say are we hitting the mark or do we need to look at it a little bit differently because that will help kind of reduce having too much or too little.

Rachel Foster: Exactly. And in a casual conversation I had had just yesterday, actually, with my skip level manager was we were talking about various programs that we offered and said how important it is to pull those numbers. And she and I were just discussing and I said, out of curiosity, I just want to know how many people have utilized this time? And having the distinction of separate codes or separate buckets is useful in that respect because you can do exactly that. Pull the numbers and say this amount, this percentage of our population or this percentage of this specific benefit is being utilized. And then you can look at it and say, hey, you know what? That's kind of low. Maybe we should do something to increase marketing of this. Maybe we should look at launching a survey or a question of is this still useful to you or could you provide us feedback on how something else would be more useful in a sense? So looking at the data on a frequent basis is incredibly important to also pulling that in benchmarking based on other companies. Your size is incredibly important as well to make sure that you're truly servicing the population. Just because something has always worked doesn't mean that it needs to stay that way.

Ali Schaafsma: Right?

Rachel Foster: We all know that if it's always worked and it's great, it's awesome, but we need to make sure that we are evolving as time goes on. And so pulling the data is the critical piece in how we start that process and how we get kind of the juices flowing in a sense of thinking of how to stay on our game and how to be an attractive employer.

Heather Grimshaw: I think that's such a good point and I really appreciate it. I think that data piece is huge and I love the fact that you've used the word curiosity because I do think the willingness and ability to look at data and then evaluate what does it tell you and act on it is, I think, probably one of the biggest parts of effectively future proofing. So this really brings us full circle and I so appreciate both of your time and expertise here, willingness to participate in this podcast. Thank you so much.

Ali Schaafsma: Thank you.

Rachel Foster: Absolutely. Thank you, Heather and Ali.

Heather Grimshaw: And thank you to all of our listeners. We're glad you were with us today.