Love It or Leave It? Absence Management Technology
Q: How would you describe the current state of tech in the absence management space?
A: To preface the discussion, I want to quickly illustrate the current state of paid family and medical leave (PFML) regulations. Although eligible employees may quality for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or other national policies, there is no national PFML program. Instead, many states, municipalities, and cities have developed their own plans. This is positive, but means employers have more and varied regulations to keep up with while managing and integrating internal policies. For this and other reasons, many employers are turning to Leave of Absence (LOA) software to help track employee leave. In layman’s terms, it is software that helps employers manage and track employee absences including sick leave, vacation time, federal holidays, jury duty, etc. Outside of LOA software and services, we are seeing components of absence recording in payroll services, benefits administration programs, time tracking software, HRIS modules etc.
Q: How do employers feel about these developments?
A: We’ve seen many employers embrace these technologies. As an impartial entity, at Spring we provide employers with all options when it comes to Leave of Absence (LOA) software, benefits administration programs and other technology options, including taking a look at internal processes for opportunities to streamline. Our surveys indicate that employees tend to favor newer LOA programs as opposed to traditional, more manual practices. Having a system in place mitigates the stress of trying to figure out what to do and where to go for information about leave options available, or to request a leave. These programs also allow employers to track patterns in utilization of different leave types and critical metrics surrounding return to work and leave duration. In this way, absence management technology can have an indirect impact on employee productivity and morale.
Q: What are some of the limitations/pitfalls to tech in absence management?
A: Although it may seem like we are in the prime of technological innovation, with new devices and tools popping up everywhere, macro advancements are slow to develop. Many LOA systems offer similar services when it comes to recording/managing leave, but the main benefits come from tracking and data analytics. With that being said, leave technologies may not be worth the monetary investment for smaller companies with fewer leaves to manage. Another concern relates to privacy and security, as many of these programs require sensitive company and employee information, but this is no more true for absence management technology than it is for any other digital tool that houses sensitive information We haven’t seen a large-scale breach in this space yet, but it remains a concern for some employers. Lastly, our employer clients have seen the most success with these types of technologies when they have the bandwidth to assign a point person or point team, as appropriate, so that there are in-house experts on the tool that can not only maintain the system and answer questions, but can also be looking for process improvements.
Q: What should employers do if they are considering implementing more tech within their absence programs?
A: I would recommend employers first review their current policies and pinpoint areas for improvement. Some do this through employee benefits surveys, one-on-one interviews, benchmarking, market research, etc. Absence management software ranges drastically and it is essential that employers understand exactly what they are looking for in a tool, before reviewing available options. It is important to first compile any pertinent data related to leaves of absence and a clear line of sight into your different leave benefits and how they interact. Once you have conducted this landscape/needs assessment, we recommend working with a consultant like Spring to conduct a Request for Proposal (RFP) for technology partners, market research to give you a detailed overview of solutions, benchmarking to understand what similar employers are utilizing, and/or surveys to determine the priorities of your employees and stakeholders.
Q: What can we expect to see in the coming months/years?
A: The pandemic completely flipped leave approaches and tools upside down. Many companies have shifted to hybrid and remote models, with a more dispersed workforce than ever. Those offices that have implemented a return-to-office (in-person) policy are seeing an influx of accommodations requests because employees are reluctant to return. Complexities and market shifts like these are what made LOA software the norm among many larger employers, and it remains a viable solution in the post-pandemic world as well. It is difficult to predict macro-economic and social changes, but I predict current LOA technologies will continue to improve and gain traction. I expect we will see more employers reevaluating their absence programs to stay competitive and attract talented workers, and having an employee-friendly system in place is part of that equation.
Although AI, ChatGPT and other groundbreaking technologies are dominating global headlines, the absence management space has remained mostly untouched. But who knows? Maybe one day we will have absence software that can predict our sick days before we even take them. Stay tuned for more food for thought!