The three keys to finding success in leave-management outsourcing include anticipating cultural change, engaging employees with a clear communications campaign and managing expectations.
An employer's decision to outsource leave management is driven by many factors, which may include a desire to improve compliance and increase efficiency.
However, the transition from administering leave management to hiring a company to do the job is not without its challenges.
Anticipate and facilitate culture change
Anticipating and managing cultural issues is key to a successful transition from in-house to outsourced leave management, according to human resource and benefits representatives from 13 employers who comprised The Hartford's 2011 Leave Management Think Tank.
Finding a vendor whose approach aligns with company needs and culture is critical.
A vendor must be able to provide the appropriate amount of support, while delivering consistency and standardization in managing leaves.
Engage employees with a clear communications campaign
As outsourcing is put in place, new company policies and procedures may be established. In-depth training, open communication and readily accessible reference materials are needed to clarify the process.
The University of Kansas Hospital trained its managers and conducted a comprehensive communications outreach to employees to inform them about new policies and procedures that accompanied the switch to a vendor.
Educating employees requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Employee populations can be segmented not only geography but culturally. For example, English is a second language for some employees. Others may have distinct preferences for how and how often to receive communication.
"If you have a varied workforce, you will have varied communications needs," says Robin Benoit of Genzyme Corp., who participated in the think tank.
The challenge for employers, however, is capturing their employees' attention before they are personally affected by the need to file a leave request. Helpful and approachable "how-to" guides, such as "The Five Things You Need to Know about Filing a Leave Request," can help with the transition. Messages should be delivered in multiple ways, including company newsletters, intranet and e-mails.
Another cultural issue may arise within the HR department itself if managers are reluctant to give up responsibilities related to leave management.
"We had meetings with HR managers to explain that outsourcing was going to free up time to allow them to become better strategic partners with the business rather than spending time doing day-to-day administration," says Sharee Chapman of Gerdau Long Steel North America, another think-tank participant.
A communications strategy should include presenting the business case to senior management. In situations where employers have not tracked leaves in the past or if claims were under-reported, the initial reporting of results from a vendor may appear to be an increase in incidence. To counter that perception, senior managers should be alerted to the fact that, over time, results will likely show the benefit of greater consistency and improved standardization.
For employers both large and small, The Hartford's 2011 Leave Management Think Tank found the benefits of outsourcing typically outweigh any difficulties.
Marjorie Savage is director of product/market development for absence management for The Hartford's group benefits. She can be reached at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org.