Engaging Today’s Workforce: Flexible, Enhanced Leave and Disability Programs

DMEC Staff@Work

Providing Flexible, Enhanced Leave and Disability Programs in an Era of Automation

By Bradd Chignoli, MBA

SVP, Head of National Accounts

While automation has long impacted industries such as manufacturing and retail, new technologies are poised to radically change other areas of labor and workforce, including disability programs and absence management.

According to MetLife’s recently-released 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study,1 employers and employees aren’t afraid of automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, collaboration tools, and robotics. In fact, they’re embracing these technologies. However, employers and employees alike are afraid of losing a sense of human connection in the workplace.

About half of both groups worry that the workplace is becoming less human, indicating that now is a pivotal time for employers to engage the human workforce by meeting their personal needs. For some employers, this means offering increased flexible work arrangements and enhanced leave and disability programs.

During a period of record-low unemployment, it can be difficult to replace employees, including those on short- or long-term disability. But a well-managed, tailored disability management program can lessen this burden by helping employees return to work sooner through transitional work and other programs.

Findings show that by using multiple strategies to support work flexibility and freedom, employers empower their employees and create deep loyalty. The study indicates that more than 90% of employees who feel most “connected” or “empowered” at work expect to still be working for their organization in 12 months, compared to 81% of all workers.

Those most “connected” or “empowered” are also at least 17% more likely to say they trust their company’s leadership. They are 11% more likely to report that employee benefits help them worry less about unexpected health issues.

Customized employee benefits, including disability and return-to-work (RTW) programs, go a long way toward building loyalty and trust. Among employees surveyed, 73% agreed that “having benefits customized to meet my needs would increase my loyalty to my employer.”

Employers are responding to this by offering the customized benefits employees seek, and introducing automated and digital technologies to the workplace. These strategies give your in-house employee base more flexibility and empowerment in their benefits. They also open more avenues for employees on disability to return to work. It can be as simple as investing in virtual private networks for stable internet connections, video conference solutions, online file sharing systems, and webmail.

Employers can also incorporate an online automated dashboard for those on leave and remote employees. The system promotes engagement and relieves stress through key capabilities: confirming that their work products are delivered, and/or that they are meeting the requirements for their RTW program. At the same time, human resources can track the functional improvement of employees on leave or in a RTW program. Leave managers may learn sooner about the conditions that could support an employee’s physical return to the workplace.

The study further showed that elements of flexibility in leave, disability, and RTW programs can provide clear benefits. Employers reap the benefits of  improved retention, increased productivity, and greater employee engagement. That same flexibility benefits employees by creating less physical and financial stress, and provides a greater sense of empowerment and appreciation.

The study also identified gaps between the perceptions of employers and employees on key work-life issues, highlighting the need for employers to invest the time and resources to truly understand employees’ desires and needs. Doing so is a critical first step toward offering integrated, flexible leave, disability, and RTW programs.


  1. MetLife. 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study. 2018. Retrieved from https://benefittrends.metlife.com.