Developing coordinated leave policies that prioritize productivity and clear communications can help minimize productivity impacts of extended leaves

SAN FRANCISCO – June 3, 2019 – As more states appear ready to pass paid employee leave laws, new research by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a non-profit health and productivity research organization, finds that extended leaves impact business operations and add stresses to co-workers who cover absent employees’ responsibilities. The findings from a nationally representative survey of 538 employees underscores the productivity challenges for employers — which have indirect costs that often go unrecognized.

“Employees who need time off to recover from an illness, take care of a family member, or welcome a new child into the home certainly benefit from the financial security of paid leave,” said Brian Gifford, PhD, IBI’s Research Director. “And while existing research finds that employers don’t take a big financial hit from paid leaves, there are hidden costs to business operations and the wellbeing of team members when a colleague takes at least two weeks off. For the most part, employers are not hiring temporary substitutes or outsourcing to get the work done and team members pick up the slack or things get put on hold. While the financial impact of increased stress and work delays is hard to measure — it’s nonetheless real.”

The survey findings suggest looming productivity challenges for employers when taken alongside a second, state-by-state analysis of over 3 million Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) records from 2011 to 2017. The analysis shows:

  • Men who worked in states with paid family leave (PFL) laws — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island during the period covered by the data — took more time off to bond with a new child when compared to men in non-PFL states.
  • For men in PFL states, bonding was the reason for FMLA leave more than twice as often as for men in non-PFL states.
  • Men’s bonding leave durations in PFL states were about 44% longer than in other states.
  • The differences for bonding leave rates and durations for women in different states was smaller than the differences for men.

“As paid leave becomes more widely available — by law or by corporate policies — employers should expect more employees, especially men, to take time off,” said Thomas Parry, PhD, IBI President. “The key to minimizing workflow disruptions and strains on other workers is to develop coordinated leave policies that take into account these impacts ahead of time, rather than having supervisors and team managers just manage as best they can.”

To help employers develop leave strategies that sustain productivity with minimal impacts to staff workloads, morale, and personnel costs, the report contains guidance from experts at leading health care, benefits and absence management firms. Recommendations from these experts include making team productivity a priority, developing a coordinated benefits strategy, and clearly communicating how leave policies work for both the leave-taker and impacted co-workers.

Additional survey findings:

  • Among the majority of surveyed employees who worked as part of a team, three in five experienced a co-worker’s extended absence (two weeks or more) for a health, bonding, or family leave reason in the previous 12 months.
  • Nearly half of employees who experienced a co-worker’s extended absence reported at least one associated personal or business consequence. One in five reported more than one consequence, the most common were personal, such as increased stress or difficulty completing one’s own work.
  • More than half of employees who experienced a co-worker’s extended absence reported that staff took on the absent employee's responsibilities. One in three reported that staff put in more overtime or spent more time at work than usual. Obtaining extra help such as the use of temporary replacements or outsourcing work was reported infrequently.
  • Adaptations such as having staff spend more time at work or perform an absent worker’s responsibilities were significantly associated with greater personal consequences. More time at work and outsourcing were significantly associated with greater productivity consequences. These outcomes may undermine other company priorities such as retention and emotional well-being.

Findings from the state-by-state analysis of FMLA leaves:

  • From 2011-17, 15% of men's FMLA leaves were for bonding with a new child. The share of men’s bonding leaves was more than twice as high in states with PFL laws—for leaves taken in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island during the period covered by the data — than in non-PFL states (28% compared to 13%).
  • For women, 24% of leaves were for bonding. Since two-thirds of FMLA leave-takers are women, this suggests that women take bonding leave 3.2 times as often as men. The gap between bonding leaves taken in PFL and non-PFL states (32% and 23%, respectively, a 39% difference) is smaller for women than for men.
  • Men’s leave durations in PFL states are six workdays longer than in non-PFL states (a 44% increase). The comparable increase in bonding leave durations in PFL states for women is three workdays (a 9% increase).
  • To help employers better understand FMLA leave outcomes in states with different PFL laws, created an online interactive mapping tool. The tool reports reasons for FMLA leaves and leave durations by state and among states with and without PFL and temporary disability insurance (TDI) laws.

About Integrated Benefits Institute

The Integrated Benefit Institute’s independent research, industry-leading tools and data resources help companies link health-related programs to the outcomes that maximize the contributions of people to productivity and business performance. Founded in 1995, IBI is a national nonprofit research organization and business association serving 1,100 employer and supplier members and their 22 million employees. . For additional information, please visit and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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