Three key strategies for mastering leave management in complex healthcare environments

Updated on May 1, 2024

Handling leave requests and policy tracking can be challenging for any organization, but in the world of healthcare, it’s particularly complex – and the stakes are even higher. With round-the-clock operations, shift work, changing regulations, and fitness-for-duty requirements, there are many nuances to consider. When done right, however, good leave management is necessary for keeping a healthcare facility operational, compliant, and able to deliver quality patient care. It also has a direct impact on employee well-being. 

It’s no secret that healthcare professionals are experiencing burnout at escalating rates. However, by supporting employees and ensuring a positive leave experience – from request to return – organizations can enhance staff retention and mitigate the costly impact of turnover. A recent AbsenceSoft survey asked healthcare employees who had recently taken a leave of absence about their experiences and found positive leave experiences improved loyalty, productivity, and a sense of belonging. On the flip side, of those who reported a negative leave and return-to-work experience, 46% decided to look for a new job or didn’t come back to work. 

It’s important to note that leave of absences are different from personal time off, sick time, and vacation time as they are usually taken for extended amounts of time to manage significant life events, such as caregiving, childbirth, injuries, or military leave. Additionally, federal, state, local, and municipal laws add an extra level of complexity to this type of leave.

Getting leave management right in the healthcare space is complex, but with the right tools in place, it’s possible to balance compliance obligations and ensure that the leave process works well for both the employer and employee. In turn, this can help create a smooth return process and keep everything on track. 

If you are overwhelmed by your organization’s leave management process or looking to make the process better for all, there are a few key steps to take that can make a big difference. Let’s dive into three.

  1. Automate to Improve Efficiency

According to AbsenceSoft’s 2024 Leave of Absence and Workplace Accommodations

Forecast, for the second year in a row, HR managers across industries are seeing an increase in leave requests. Nearly 75% said that they received a 20% or more increase in leave requests during the past year.

In addition to simply getting more requests, there are hundreds of frequently changing leave laws across the United States, including federal mandates such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and American Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state leave laws. Add in organization-specific policies, and that’s a whole lot to keep up with. AbsenceSoft also found that 41% of respondents in healthcare face challenges with state leave compliance, and 54% face challenges with FMLA compliance. 

Leave management has evolved beyond what can be effectively done on a spreadsheet, with continuous automation and tracking capabilities becoming must-haves in today’s workplace. Being able to automate tedious processes – such as calculating eligibility – leads to increased efficiency and provides more time to focus on what really makes a difference: the people. 

  1. Create a self-service portal

Creating a self-service portal empowers employees during the leave process by making it easier to request leave and get real-time updates. This can drastically reduce the number of simple questions HR and leave management teams receive, leaving more time for complex cases and personalized support. It also serves as a one-stop-shop for employees to find past correspondence and for employers to store relevant documentation needed for compliance purposes.

  1. Improve Communication 

Many hospitals are under state or local mandates for staffing, which they must keep up to stay compliant and keep their doors open. It can also be costly to replace in-demand talent. This makes it vitally important to remain on top of which employees are on leave, return-to-work dates, and replacement worker scheduling, as well as having the ability to communicate with each employee about their case and what options are available to them. This can retain employees that may have left otherwise and facilitate a smoother transition back to work.

However, as we all know, it can be challenging to communicate effectively and efficiently with healthcare employees. Many are not tied to a computer but rather constantly on the move, providing the best care possible to patients.

To help streamline communication and make sure it gets to the intended audience, HR and leave teams should develop multiple communication avenues such as text messaging, email, and additional tools deemed effective within their organization. By offering various options for employees to get their information, leaders can ensure that information dissemination is timely, accessible, and aligns with the preferences and needs of their workforce. 

Modern healthcare employees are burned out and requesting more leave. They are also in high demand and retaining them is essential for continuity of care, fulfilling staffing requirements, and ultimately saving lives. While leave management can’t solve all of healthcare’s staffing challenges, it can play a big part.

Historically, managing leave in healthcare has been a stressful, time-consuming, and complicated process. However, it doesn’t have to remain this way. By establishing clear protocols, automating processes, and fostering open communication channels, organizations can create a personalized approach that allows employees to return to work feeling supported and engaged. 

Seth Turner
Seth Turner
Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at AbsenceSoft

Seth Turner is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at AbsenceSoft, a SaaS-based leave-of-absence solution for enterprises. Seth has over 20 years of experience helping clients solve their HR and absence management issues. As Chief Strategy Officer, Seth is responsible for working with clients on strategic initiatives and evaluating partnerships and product opportunities.

Seth works closely with the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) and frequently presents at conferences. Before founding AbsenceSoft, Seth held leadership roles at Hewitt Associates, Mercer, and Reed Group, focusing on outsourcing and technology solutions for Leave of Absence and Employee Benefits.