How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment

How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”    – Albert Einstein

Benefits communication is notoriously tricky. Lunch and learns? Employees resent taking time out of a busy day. Long emails? They’re all too easy to ignore. Hard copies of your benefits booklet? Expect them to be quickly stuffed into a desk drawer with best intentions for review “when things slow down.”

You already know that clear communication can make all the difference in your employees’ benefits experience. So how’s a benefits administrator to cut through the noise? Review these seven tried-and-true strategies now to make the most of your open enrollment benefits communication.

Write like a fifth-grader

Great communicators know the best way to talk about a subject is to K.I.S.S: keep it simple, stupid. Just look at how Apple advertises that its latest iPhone has “just the right amount of everything.” Instead of leaning on technical jargon, the company relies on words like “magical” and “powerful.” Most people don’t understand, or care, about tech specs. They want a cell phone that does the things they need. In other words, they’re more interested in the benefits than the features.

Apple communicates in simple terms that even a 10-year-old can understand.

Now, ask yourself: could a 10-year-old understand most of your benefits communications? Would their eyes glaze over if you tried to explain HDHPs, co-insurance, HSA, co-payment, or HRA? Resist the urge to use the industry’s newest acronym. Remember, your employees have been snoozing through benefits presentations for years. Basic English is your safest bet for clear communication.

To gauge the clarity of your communications, try a tool like Hemingway Editor, which applies a reading level to your text, or use Microsoft Word’s readability tool to gauge your Flesch-Kincaid readability score.

Put benefits in context with real-world examples

Use examples to help employees understand how benefits will make their lives better. Attach an example scenario to every benefit. If you’re talking about telemedicine, don’t say it’s “available 24/7/365.” Point out that parents can use their new telemedicine benefit to quickly get antibiotics for their daughter’s ear infection at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve. If you’re discussing a formulary, give a tangible example of the cash price for Lipitor versus the cost on their plan. Humans relate to stories. So when they remember a relatable example, employees are more likely to make use of that amazing new benefit.

No one cares about benefits communication (until they do)

Deep down, you know that health insurance is boring. Most people would rather discuss sports, books, or movies —really anything besides benefits. At the same time, most employees will need their healthcare benefits in the next year. It’s important to reiterate that knowing what their coverage looks like now can save them money down the road. It’s just one reason a healthcare guidance platform is so critical to benefits communication. Teaching them that there’s a hub for their benefits knowledge (and that it isn’t their benefits administrator’s email inbox) is a simpler solution than administering a complete, preventative primer on their benefits.

Personalize your message

The ultimate goal of your benefits communication is an emotional shift from indifferent to engaged.

To achieve that goal, your presentation must be customized to your audience’s life experiences. An open enrollment meeting for senior management won’t match one for employees on the factory floor.

Consider segmenting your communications for different email lists, focusing on the pain points that create an emotional shift for your audience. You may also need to rely on different platforms in order to communicate with different teams. If the sales team is always on the road, for example, email may not even be the answer. You may want to tell them about your new EAP benefit via text message.

Brainstorm ways to segment your audience and tweak your message. HealthJoy’s artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, JOY, will personalize messages for users on a one-on-one basis based on their habits—and do it at scale.

Make great self-service tools available

The benefits marketplace is in a state of constant change. Tools and tech are just one way to provide your employees with a simpler communication experience. It’s worth asking: is your benefits package providing the best possible self-service tools to your employees? Engagement metrics reveal a lot about the employee benefit experience, so review them every year.

Calculate how much those tools are costing you for every use. Even the cheapest tools are expensive when the cost per use skyrockets due to low utilization. Give your employees the tools they can use year-round, on their own, then sit back and watch your HR department save hundreds of hours a year.

Make benefits communications snackable

Your employees can lose interest in communication materials in as little as two seconds. It’s crucial that you capture their attention and deliver your core message as quickly as possible. Yet the typical benefits package consists of over 200 pages of material. This information overload doesn’t stop after open enrollment ends. It’s common to see multi-page emails go out to employees with monthly updates about benefits. When the brain sees too much information, it simply disengages. That’s why the two-second rule is essential.

Make sure anything you produce is scannable, with a simple hierarchy that gives the most important information priority. It should only contain the essential message points you are trying to deliver. Deliver your employee benefits communication in bite-sized pieces, rather than sending the whole meal.

Make it visual

You’ve heard “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So don’t forget to add graphics like on-brand images, authentic photos, animated GIFs, and beautiful fonts to your employee communications. According to Xerox, using color in communications increases attention span and recall by 82% and motivation by 80%. Need employees to respond during open enrollment? Add some color!

Another study on the ‘Principles of Educational Multimedia User Interface Design’ showed that information presented in a visual manner results in 3X better recall than verbal. The results increased to 6X better recall if you combine visual and oral communication.

The bottom line: adding relevant graphics to your emails, going beyond text in your presentations, and even dabbling in video makes your message more impactful.

Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work?

Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work?

As Twitter celebrates chatting with your therapist, mental health discussions are losing their workplace taboo, too. Yet many people remain reluctant to seek out counseling.

That’s a problem for companies. When employees go it alone, mental health struggles show up in absenteeism and lower productivity. As an HR professional, you might be left wondering: how can counseling help employees cope? Short-term counseling solutions are one answer, with none of the intimidation factor—or the cost—of traditional therapy.

Let’s dig into how short-term therapy resources can boost employee wellness.

What is short-term counseling?

Short-term counseling is sometimes called brief counseling. It’s usually defined as a period of therapy spanning 12 sessions or less.

Here’s how short-term counseling and long-term therapy are different:

    • Short-term counseling isn’t a shorter version of traditional models like cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s a different kind of counseling focused on an outcome and an endpoint.
    • Long-term therapy models seek to understand a person’s full history before getting to the solution. Short-term counseling is rooted in the pressures of the here-and-now.
    • Long-term therapy is focused on a problem’s cause. Short-term counseling focuses on current problems and their solutions.
    • In both long-term therapy and short-term counseling, mental health professionals build custom treatment plans. But in short-term therapy, they quickly emphasize building coping skills and solutions.

What problems can short-term counseling solve?

Short-term counseling addresses problems like depression, anxiety, grief, stress, relationship issues and substance abuse. It’s especially intriguing as we learn more about the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace. Mental stress from legal problems, a job transition or financial concerns can also lessen with short-term therapy.

Let’s say an employee is struggling with grief after the death of a parent. They don’t feel comfortable talking to coworkers and they’re unsure how to reach out for help.

When employees are struggling with mental and emotional stress, they’re more likely to miss work and be less productive. One report estimates that depression and anxiety add up to a loss of $1 trillion in productivity per year. These factors cost the company money, but they also impact workplace dynamics.

This employee’s coworkers might notice they’re distracted, irritable, and accomplishing less of their share of the work. Short-term counseling could help this employee heal, with positive benefits at work and at home.

The benefits of short-term counseling

Most of us think of “seeing a therapist” as an endless journey. Short-term counseling is a cheaper option, but it may also work better than long-term therapy.

For one thing, more counseling doesn’t equal more results. In one 2006 study, participants showed reliable and clinically-significant improvement of 88% after just one session. The rate of improvement lowered to 62% after 12 sessions. People tend to stop going to therapy, the researchers guessed, after they achieve “good enough” results.

These positive changes seem to show up in the workplace, too. In a study of one short-term counseling program, participants reported improvements in absenteeism, presenteeism and alcohol use after just 30 days. In the same program, 69.4% went from low or moderate productivity to high productivity during that period.

A few more reasons employees might prefer short-term counseling:

    • Empowerment: short-term counseling focuses on an individual’s ability to solve problems. Patients set goals and stay motivated by real progress. That comes in handy, since we know some people will simply stop going when they get the results they want.
    • Accessibility: a decade-long standing date with your counselor sounds pretty daunting. A few months of therapy is a more accessible solution for busy professionals who just want to prepare for a move, get over a breakup, or deal with performance anxiety.
    • Cost: twelve sessions will always be cheaper than 25. But this savings isn’t just about big insurance providers saving a buck. It’s passed on to employees, as well. A short-term counseling plan allows individuals to plan for fewer copayments and pursue financial wellness.

Short-term counseling’s limitations

Of course, short-term counseling won’t always be the best solution.

Long-term therapy seems to be more effective for severe psychiatric disorders. Complex mental disorders or personality disorders may require a few years of therapy instead of a few short counseling sessions. The same is true with any kind of trauma or abuse.

Some mental health professionals argue that short-term counseling saves insurance providers money at the expense of results. Research supports the short-term counseling model, but it’s important to seek out licensed therapists who can help clients decide what’s best for them.

Boost employee wellness with short-term counseling

Short-term counseling can provide coping skills for some of life’s universal challenges, from grief and relationship stress to depression and anxiety. Since it’s rooted in solutions, it helps employees get out the door and back to their lives faster than long-term therapy, all at a lower cost.

This type of counseling benefits the workplace, too. The same stressors that drive employees to seek therapy can chip away at employee productivity. When you address mental and emotional health with a short-term therapy resource, you’ll boost employee wellness and workplace culture, too.

How can you easily introduce a short-term counseling benefit to your workplace? Short-term counseling is a cornerstone feature of most Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s). Most EAP’s include not only counseling, but legal and financial support to help employees navigate difficult life events. The results are measurable: one study reported a savings of $116 per employee in healthcare-related costs after implementing an EAP.

We recently launched our own EAP product to help employers easily incorporate assistance programs into their 2020 benefits packages.

Why Employees Don’t Use Your EAP Program

Why Employees Don’t Use Your EAP Program

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a great tool to promote employee wellness. An EAP program offers third-party counseling services to help employees navigate challenging life situations that affect their personal and professional lives. Despite the clear benefits of an EAP program, employees rarely take advantage of this resource. In this post, we’ll try to better understand this concerning trend, as well as share tips on what you can do to improve adoption. But first, let’s take a closer look at what types of services are offered with EAPs.

What Exactly Do EAP Programs Include?

An EAP program is an employee benefit that’s sponsored by an employer and typically offered to an employee and their families. The program helps employees with stress management for a variety of situations. This can include everything from relationships, legal challenges, drug abuse, or financial concerns. EAPs are strictly confidential and intended to help employees effectively deal with their problems, so they’re not carried over into the workplace.

Studies show that EAP services are a great way to increase employee productivity, happiness, and wellness. They deliver a $6.47 return on investment for every $1 spent. This is likely why 75% to 95% of organizations offer an EAP.

Why Employees Ignore Their EAP Program

Unfortunately, despite their prominence, EAP programs still suffer from low utilization. A survey found that the usage of EAP programs remains low at a mere 7%. Why is this the case? Let’s examine a few reasons why your employees may not be taking advantage of this great resource.

Lack of program education

If you’ve never heard of EAPs before reading this post, you’re not alone – EAP programs suffer from an education problem. As a result, employees who aren’t familiar with EAPs are unlikely to use the service.

Many employees may also still carry the perception that EAPs are only for people with mental health issues or drug problems. This misinformation can lead many employees to infer the program isn’t for them. While the program was initially created to address such concerns, today’s EAP service offering is much more diverse.

Here are a few ways to better educate your employees about EAPs:

    • Invest in education before launching an EAP Program. If you’re thinking about introducing an EAP at your company, inform your employees ahead of time. You can host webinars or lunch and learns about the program. This gives everyone a sense of the service offering, and whether or not it’s of interest to them.
    • Ask EAP program providers to come into the office and present. This presentation should focus on topics that resonate with your employees. For instance, discussing services for mental health management, loss of a family member, or legal. These are situations that nearly everyone can relate to.
    • Create physical and digital FAQs. Employees may feel uncomfortable asking HR questions about EAPs, so proactively providing materials with answers to frequently asked questions can help. This can be a resource they turn to before and after the EAP is launched.

Lack of Awareness

EAPs also suffer from a low awareness problem. This means that, even if an employer offers an EAP program, most employees aren’t aware of its existence. This can be due to a number of reasons. It could be that HR isn’t doing enough to make this benefit visible. Or company leaders themselves aren’t aware of the benefit and therefore can’t recommend it to employees.

Whatever is driving it, here are a few things you can do to increase awareness of your company’s EAP:

    • Include EAPs as part of your open enrollment communications. Don’t just lump the program in with your wellness benefits in your open enrollment materials. Instead, explicitly state that your company has an EAP. Then explain what services are offered.
    • Promote year-round. Just as you would with your other benefits, make sure to promote the EAP throughout the year. Not just during open enrollment season. This ensures EAPs stay top of mind for employees.
    • Offer a training session for all managers. Most managers are in the same boat as other employees: They don’t know that EAPs exist. However, if you create opportunities for these company leaders to get familiar with this benefit, they can serve as internal advocates for the program. This can play a big role in raising overall awareness among employees.

Associated Stigmas

Sadly, many employees don’t utilize EAPs because they’re worried about the associated stigmas. Perhaps they’re ashamed of the fact that they’re going through a divorce or dealing with an alcohol abuse problem. Or they feel embarrassed by their struggles with mental health issues. Men, in particular, are prone to this, which is likely why 60 percent of employees who use EAP services are female.

Here are tips to break down any stigmas around EAPs:

    • Create a culture of openness. When employees fear stigma in the workplace, it’s because they’re nervous about how they’re going to be perceived. Creating a culture of open mindedness will help employees feel more comfortable being themselves. You can do this by openly discussing tough topics like mental health and finances. By doing so, you demonstrate to employees that these are obstacles everyone faces at some point in their lives. While a culture change won’t happen overnight, it’s a powerful goal to work towards.
    • Have company leaders share their personal experiences. One way to create a culture of openness is by encouraging vulnerability – especially among company leaders. Have the leadership team share their battles with mental health. Or encourage managers to share their personal struggles with work-life balance. These simple actions can make employees feel less alone and ashamed about their issues.

Fear of Confidentiality Issues

Many employees have the misconception that their counseling sessions will be shared with their employers. This is absolutely not the case. EAP services are strictly confidential. The only exception is if employees indicate wanting to harm themselves or others. Then the therapist or counselor has the right to report it to the appropriate people.

Here are a few ways to address apprehension around confidentiality:

    • Make sure employees understand that there are privacy laws in place. Many people aren’t aware that there are actual laws that protect their confidentiality. It’s not just a verbal promise. Let them know that, legally, there aren’t any reports that come back to the company. There’s also no external record of their use of the EAP program.
    • Include this in all materials and communication. Have these confidentiality laws visible across all channels. They can live anywhere from the kitchen to email communications to handouts. Also, make it easy for employees to access this information so they don’t have to ask HR for it.
    • Build trust with your employees. Above all, focus on building a trusting relationship with your team. If your employees believe that leadership has their best interests in mind, that trust is likely to be extended to other realms.

Misunderstanding of Cost

Another barrier to using EAPs could be misunderstanding around cost. Many EAP services have a healthcare component. So employees may assume they’re responsible for a copay or deductible. This could deter them from seeking out EAP services. However, contrary to this belief, EAP counseling services are free to employees and are completely covered by the employer.

Here’s how to clarify cost concerns with employees:

    • Separate EAP services from other healthcare benefits. Otherwise, employees may assume that the EAP falls under their health insurance. By keeping EAP separate from health insurance, you make it clear that there are no associated costs with this program.
    • Highlight the free services. EAP counselors are equipped to deal with categories of problems that many health plans won’t cover. This is a huge benefit for people who are interested in counseling services but are deterred by the cost. Emphasize that EAPs are a great and convenient alternative to seeking expensive providers outside of the program.

Hesitation Around Asking for Permission

Another misconception about EAPs is that employees have to ask HR for permission to use the services. Or that they need their managers to sign off on it. Again, this isn’t true! Employees are at their own liberty to access EAPs. Most of the time, it’s as simple as making a phone call to an EAP provider and scheduling an appointment.

Depending on your provider, you can meet with them at their office, over the phone, or video conference. Some counselors will even meet you at your office. All of this can be decided by your employees with no need to get HR involved.

A few tips to make it clear that employees don’t need to ask for permission:

    • Make instructions clear. In any EAP materials or communication, highlight the fact that employees can access these services at any time they choose. No manager or HR permissions required. The more places you can make these instructions visible, the better.
    • Provide easy access. If your employee knows exactly how to access EAP services, they’re less likely to feel the need to ask for permission. On the flip side, if it’s difficult to access an EAP program, employees may feel like they have to ask HR for help. This can result in them forgoing the decision to use the services entirely. This leads us to our next point…

Lack of Centralized Benefits

Finally, it’s important to centralize all your benefits by designing a seamless benefits experience. Employees aren’t going to go out of their way to find and use a service. So if benefits information is scattered across multiple places, people are unlikely to use it. Decrease your chances of this happening by having all the benefits accessible in one easy-to-find location.

Here are a few ways you can centralize your benefits:

    • Pick the right vendor. Choosing the right partner is critical to centralizing your benefits. Select a vendor that can easily integrate with your existing portals. Also look for a user-friendly interface that won’t be difficult for your HR team to manage. And make sure to ask the vendor how they’ll support you through open enrollment and beyond.
    • Look for examples in the consumer space. Not sure what a seamless benefits experience looks like? Think about some of the consumer-friendly services you use everyday. Examples include Amazon, Netflix, or Yelp. Consider what makes these experiences so easy to use. Then mirror some of those characteristics in your benefits experience.

An EAP program can be a truly wonderful tool for employees. Getting employees to use yours could simply be a matter of examining why utilization of these services are so low. Then it’s all about taking action to combat this trend.

Invest in a few steps to start, such as education and making EAP services easy to access. You’re guaranteed to eventually see an uptick in usage. As a result, you’ll have employees who feel empowered to better manage their personal and professional lives. This will lead to higher performance and productivity for your organization as well.

Health Insurance Plan Design Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020

Health Insurance Plan Design Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020

Can you believe it’s that time of year again? If you’re an HR leader, you’re already planning your health insurance and benefits for 2020. Whether you’re new to the process or a seasoned veteran, it’s challenging to craft a health insurance plan design that hits the mark with all of your employees. However, you can set yourself up for success by preparing in advance. Simply follow best practices and avoid major pitfalls.

Here are a few common traps to watch out for:

Not addressing behavioral health

Behavioral health is the relationship between someone’s actions and the impact they have on their mental and physical health. It’s a concept that has grown in popularity in the workplace. Why? Many studies demonstrate the importance of addressing health holistically. According to Gallup, employees who don’t take care of their total wellbeing are at higher risk for negative outcomes. This includes being more likely to miss work, lose productivity, and find a new job.

That’s why it’s essential to make sure your benefits plan includes behavioral health benefits like an EAP program. This can include anything from counseling services to substance abuse programs. These tools can help your employees manage their physical and mental health problems. Otherwise, you miss the opportunity to improve your employees’ lives – which you’ll ultimately notice in your bottom line.

Forgetting to account for growth

Are you prepared to accommodate a growing workforce? Don’t forget that you’ll need to drop and add employees to your plan throughout the year. Have a process in place to make these changes seamlessly. As you craft your health insurance plan design, also make sure all of your benefits are easily scalable. That means having tools and programs that don’t require tons of manual effort to get up and running. This is where vetting your vendors properly comes in handy (more on this below).

Missing the demographic mark

Don’t succumb to cookie-cutter health insurance plan design for your company! Instead, take the time to understand the demographics of your employees. Then customize a healthcare offering that makes sense for them. This should take into account factors like age, gender, and family status. Having this information at your fingertips will help you design a truly impactful plan.

For example, let’s say 90% of your employees are millennials. You may want to offer a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) instead of a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan. Since millennials are statistically less likely to utilize the healthcare system, giving them a plan with lower monthly premiums – such as the HDHP – can be beneficial.

Not preparing for open enrollment

Open enrollment is a confusing and stressful time for employees. That’s because less than half of Americans are confident they can choose the right insurance plan. As a result, they’re going to lean heavily on the HR team for guidance. Just remember that preparing for open enrollment isn’t a project that can be done in a few days. It’s a process that needs to be prepared for months in advance.

Print your physical collateral and schedule your training sessions early. And be ready to answer any questions from employees. Open enrollment season will be here soon, and if you miss the opportunity to educate your team during this critical window, you may suffer from low utilization and disengaged teammates for the rest of the year. Mark your calendar and make sure HR has everything ready to go before the deadline. If you have an employee benefits experience platform, make sure to have a plan in place to leverage it and spread the word.

Neglecting year-round education

It’s a common misconception that education starts and stops with open enrollment season. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A year-round education strategy should be baked into your plans. Otherwise, you risk low awareness levels, which can result in employees not using their full package of healthcare benefits. This means wasted money for your organization and a recipe for unhappy employees.

There are many ways to engage in education efforts throughout the year. We recommend using tactics like lunch-and-learn info sessions, email campaigns, and monthly office hours. You can also take a more creative approach. Offer prizes for employees who participate in a lunch-and-learn. Set up company-wide reminders on Slack. Or make fun educational videos and play them around the office. It takes extra work, but with a little preparation and planning, you’ll learn how to incorporate these educational moments into the employee journey seamlessly. You could also include a benefits experience platform like HealthJoy into your plan that has year-round plan education baked in.

Not evaluating a vendor’s offering

While considering your health insurance plan design for 2020, do your due diligence when it comes to selecting vendors. It’s easy to renew a longstanding vendor relationship without a proper review. However, this would be doing yourself and your employees a disservice. Every year, conduct a thorough evaluation to make sure you vendors are at the top of their game. Or you risk missing out on potential cost savings and the chance to offer your employees the best benefits possible.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask existing and potential vendors tough questions. Examples include: “How will you support my company through open enrollment and beyond?” And “Can your product seamlessly integrate with our existing processes?” Or “What makes you different from your competitors?” Your vendor should easily be able to answer these queries — if not , it may be time to find a different vendor.

A lot of work goes into your health insurance plan design and other benefits. And there can be immense pressure to get it just right. But don’t worry. If you keep these common pitfalls in mind as you plan for 2020, you’ll have a head start. With a little extra time and effort, you can create a comprehensive offering your employees will appreciate all year.

Introducing HealthJoy Rewards: Encourage Healthcare Shopping

Introducing HealthJoy Rewards: Encourage Healthcare Shopping

Do you want your employees to shop for healthcare? Then give them an incentive to start shopping with HealthJoy Rewards. Our optional incentive program allows employers to offer monetary rewards to their employees for using fair-priced healthcare services. The amount of the rewards is fully customizable by the employer, but we provide nearly 100 recommendations based on industry best practices. The in-network cost for some procedures varies by up to 10X or more, so it’s no surprise that our program has an ROI of 6X for our beta customers.

 

How HealthJoy Rewards works for the employee

SHOP: HealthJoy members already ask us every day to confirm or find thousands of high-quality, fair-priced in-network providers for a variety of procedures. They’ll now have an extra incentive to ask us for advice.

SAVE: Recommendations that are rewards-eligible will contain a badge with the incentive amount. Members will also have access to the HealthJoy Rewards Center, which shows completed and open rewards.

EARN: Members can submit a photo of their EOB or bill to verify they followed our recommendation. HealthJoy can also work directly with cooperating TPAs so the employee can skip this step.

We’ll supply a file to the employer listing who should receive rewards and the corresponding amounts. Rewards can be payroll, gift cards, or even HSA contributions. The program is easy to launch and maintain. JOY, our virtual assistant, will educate members on rewards throughout the year and encourage them to shop for all their procedures.

Employers can use HealthJoy Rewards to encourage a wide variety of events, including:

  • Usage of specific facilities for procedures, labs, and diagnostics
  • Consultations and services provided by select providers
  • Utilization of prescription savings programs (coming in 2020)

You can add rewards to an employer’s HealthJoy account at any time. Speak to your Sales or Customer Success Manager for further details. If you would like to see a demo, please click here.

7 Ways HR Can Support Employees Through Family Leave

7 Ways HR Can Support Employees Through Family Leave

When an employee takes family leave, there are many things HR needs to do along the way. There are legal guidelines you need to follow under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you have more than 50 employees in the United States – plus, additional non-legal steps HR can take to make life easier for the employees. All of these actions need to happen before, during, and even after your employee takes family leave. In this post, we break down what HR needs to do during every stage of the process.

Before your employee goes on leave…

Have a written official company policy

Above all, have a solid family leave policy in place. Don’t wait until your first employee gives notice and scramble to create one. Otherwise, you risk confusion and potential liabilities. Your policy should cover the ins and outs of FMLA requirements, such as the 12 weeks of job-protected leave and group health benefits.

However, the other details of the policy are up to you. Will you offer paid or unpaid leave? Are there any policy differences for birthing parents versus adoptive parents? How far in advance does the employee have to give notice? These are essential points that you need to address in the family leave policy. Having everything laid out ensures everyone is on the same page.

Train your managers

HR may create the family leave policy, but it’s managers who enforce it. That’s why it’s necessary to provide managers with extensive training. It’s not only about teaching them how to handle FMLA time-off requests. It’s also about making sure they understand each employee’s rights and handle situations with sensitivity.

The last thing you want is a manager who inadvertently violates an employees’ rights or the law’s anti-discrimination provisions. For instance, if a manager doesn’t approve an employee’s request for leave (for the wrong reasons), this opens up the company to legal trouble. It’s also disrespectful to the employee and will create tense relationships. Save yourself the stress and invest in the training.

Explain their benefits

Having a seamless benefits experience is important, but especially so during a significant life event like pregnancy. Not knowing how to access insurance information quickly can be stressful for employees while they’re on leave. We recommend taking the time to sit down with them beforehand to walk through their benefits and answer questions. Also, make sure your employees have a way to access all the information even after they leave the office.

During your employee’s leave…

Be respectful

While your employee is on leave, be respectful, meaning zero work-related communications during their time off. You may think a single Slack message or email won’t hurt, but that can add a lot of burden to an already stressful situation. Not to mention it may breed resentment. You can decrease the chances of this happening by having a solid hand-off plan before your employee leaves.

Also, be aware of your employee’s privacy preferences. While some people are happy to hear from coworkers and share updates, others may want complete separation from work. Know what your employee wants and maybe wait for them to reach out first before making contact. It’s not personal; it’s just their way of handling the transition.

Allow flexibility

Be flexible around your employee’s family leave. For example, an employee may request a position change or a reduction in hours before and after parental leave. They may find that it’s challenging to work full-time during the late stages of pregnancy. Or they may want to work in a remote role to spend more time with their family.

While it isn’t required of the company to accommodate these changes, being flexible shows employees that you care about their needs. This, in turn, can lead to happier and more loyal workers. It may also end up working out better for the organizations and associated teams as well.

After your employee’s leave…

Consider post-family leave plans

It can be intimidating to return to work after months of being away. Having a thoughtful transition plan in place can help ease some of your employee’s concerns. It shows them that they haven’t been forgotten and are wanted back at their jobs.

This plan can include information like major updates and which projects the employee will work on next. It can be helpful to map out goals for every week or month, so your employee knows what you expect of them during the transition. Make sure they have a support team that can answer questions and help them ramp back up more quickly as well.

Celebrate!

Family leave doesn’t have to be all serious policies and work. It’s an incredibly exciting time for your employee – after all, they’re growing their family! When they return from leave, they should be welcomed back with open arms. This is an excellent opportunity to throw a party or present a thoughtful gift basket (preferably with lots of gift cards to buybuy BABY). Make sure you demonstrate to your employees that you’re there to support their family. Plus, celebrating as a team can strengthen your working relationship.

Make sure to cover all your bases when it comes to family leave. Start with the legal foundation and, from there, build out policies that suit your team’s needs. It’s not just beneficial for your company – it’s helpful for the employees as well.