Written by Kimberly Mashburn, Vice President, Market Development
Last month, several members of our team were able to attend the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) conference in Denver, Colorado, where they were able to build connections across the absence services industry and engage in some great conversation about what the future holds. One of the key themes throughout this year’s conference was the evolution of the leave industry, which is now buzzing with conversations about expanding benefits and support services for teammates who are in the process of growing and raising their families.
It’s no secret that the shift to remote work and many other consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have shaped conversations about family focused benefits, as Millennial and Gen Z workers are now looking for more support from their employers than ever before. During the pandemic, many employers temporarily adjusted their leave policies, introduced new mental health resources, and navigated changing COVID regulations to meet immediate employee needs. As we slowly move into a post-pandemic world, we must carefully consider long-term, modernized alternative leave policies and what we can expect for the future of employee benefits. A one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for most employees in today’s workforce – and family planning is a prime example of why.
Employees may take many paths to growing and raising their families, all of which require unique forms of support. Benefits like healthcare, dental, and paid time off are now largely considered table stakes, and younger workers are interested concierge-type family focused benefits, including:
- Additional time off for birth parents
- Extended paternity leave
- Assistance with leave planning
- Medical benefits for infertility
- Support services for families having a child placed in their home for foster care or adoption
- Childcare support, including day care and counseling
- Flexible schedules
- Mental health benefits to support new parents or guardians, including for those who are caring for children with additional medical needs.
While this list may feel daunting, that illustrates why change is imperative. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 Employee Benefits Survey, 82% of participating employers selected leave benefits as very important, and yet compared to the numbers seen temporarily at the height of the pandemic, the number of organizations offering paid leave has dropped considerably. In 2022, the number of organizations offering maternity leave dropped to 35 percent, while those offering paid paternity leave dropped to 27 percent; the number of organizations offering paid adoption leave dropped to 28 percent, while the number offering paid foster child leave dropped to 22 percent.
Where to begin?
Conversations about family-focused benefits must be viewed through both the lens of connecting with young job seekers as well as retaining talent long-term. Talent gaps are increasing due to tenured employees retiring at an unprecedented pace, while many workers with young children – women in particular – are dropping out of the workforce entirely. In fact, Bloomberg reported that 1.7 million older workers retired early because of the pandemic, while data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that almost 1-in-2 (45%) of mothers of school-age children were not actively working in April of 2020 due to the onset of the pandemic. While some found ways to juggle work, childcare, and new schooling challenges, by January of 2021, there were still 1.6 million fewer moms of school-aged children working than in January of 2020. This means there is an enormous pool of young talent that could prospectively be brought back into the workforce if offered the right leave programs and flexibility with scheduling, remote work, and childcare assistance.
To keep young workers engaged in the workforce, employers must not only expand benefit offerings, but must also become more supportive during major family/life transitions – which also disproportionately impact women when children are being added to their families. The American Psychological Association states that mothers fare better when they have paid time off after giving birth, including a 51% decrease in the risk of rehospitalization, and that the more leave time a new mother has after the birth or placement of a child in her home, the better her long-term health outcomes become.
Many Brown & Brown Absence Services Group teammates are based in Massachusetts, where paid family medical leave laws enacted over the last two years have extended the amount of time new parents can spend with children after birth or placement for fostering/adoption, including up to 12 additional weeks of bonding time that may be taken at an employee’s discretion within the first year of having a new child in their home. This has already begun to have a positive impact on many members of our team, one of whom shared a bit about her experience here:
“As I prepare to have my second baby any day now, I’m incredibly thankful for the additional time I can look forward to spending at home with him and my toddler. My first child was born at the very start of the pandemic, and my mental and physical health suffered tremendously postpartum – the impacts of which lingered and were exacerbated in several ways many months after I returned to work. Knowing that I have a good deal of additional time to focus on my family and ensure that my toddler, my husband, and I are all able to manage the many ways in which a new baby will change our lives already has me feeling much more empowered and prepared.” – Christina Bridges, Content Manager
Next steps to take
It can be difficult to envision creating change when you’re deep in the middle of the forest, which is why outside perspective can be particularly valuable. While there are many possible paths to be taken, seeking the expertise of quality consultants with experience building best-in-class absence programs, as well as identifying the inclusive benefits that will truly move the needle for long-term recruiting and retention needs are going to be essential for long-term talent retention.