Addressing the Challenges of Paid Leaves on the Workforce

06 Jun, 2019 Nancy Grover


Oakland, CA ( - While paid time-off to care for a newborn or family member is a great perk for the affected employee, it begs the question: who’s doing the work in the meantime? If the answer is ‘coworkers,’ the question becomes: is the extra work stressing them out? And, is the absence impacting the company’s productivity?

With more states and municipalities adopting paid family- and parental-leave policies, organizations may want to consider the impact on workers still on the job to ensure their productivity and morale are maintained. Experts recently weighed in on the issue and offered suggestions for employers.

Impact of Paid leave Policies

Paid family leave, paid parental leave and temporary disability insurance provide income for workers who take time off work to care for their own or a family member’s serious illness or for a new child. Five states and Puerto Rico currently have TDI laws, while four states have PFL laws, according to a new study from the Integrated Benefits Institute. Washington, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts have passed legislation covering both family and medical leaves; the benefits in D.C. and Washington are payable next year, while those in Massachusetts take effect in 2021.

The impact of the expanded leave laws seems to be positive for those workers affected, according to research. But there is little evidence of the impact on organizations or other employees.

IBI surveyed 310 employees who are in teams or workgroups and had experienced a co-worker’s extended absence of at least two weeks, to determine the impact. Here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half experienced a personal or business experience, such as increased stress or difficulty completing their own work
  • One-third said staff put in more overtime or spent more time at work to take up the slack for an absent employee
  • Spending more time at work and/or doing someone else’s work were “significantly associated with greater personal consequences,” the report said. While this was associated with greater productivity consequences, “these outcomes may undermine other company priorities such as retention and emotional well-being.”
  • The use of extra help, such as using temporary replacements or outsourcing work, “was reported infrequently.”

Employers do not necessarily spend more money during an employee’s leave. Previous research has shown that California employers assign additional work to existing employees when coworkers take paid leave. The authors said that could “mask” strains on these other workers.

“Sustained job demands and work overload have been associated with higher risks of job dissatisfaction, burnout, work absence and turnover intentions,” the report said. “Increased access to paid leave may exacerbate these strains if employers continue to shift leave-takers’ responsibilities to other employees rather than hire temporary replacements — a likely scenario for the near future if historically low unemployment rates continue.”

Experts’ Advice

Organizations in jurisdictions with paid leave policies are advised to develop strategies to sustain productivity with the least impacts on workloads, staff morale and personnel costs. IBI gathered input from thought leaders in healthcare, benefits and absence management.

“Employers need leave policies that not only conform to applicable laws regarding leave-takers, but that also address the continuity of business operations,” the authors wrote. “This means formally considering the impact of extended leaves on team productivity when adopting new policies and working with HR, benefits professionals, legal counsel and leaders of different business units to develop standing continuity plans.”

Managers and supervisors need to be prepared for any leave requests and C-suite personnel should be cognizant of the impact on business operations. The experts advise that continuity plans include at a minimum:

  • Mission critical roles that have a high risk of disruption by team members’ extended absences
  • A staffing plan for maintaining mission critical operations first and covering absent employees’ tasks secondarily (when these are not mission critical) for scenarios that correspond to different leave policy durations; (e.g., 8 weeks for a family leave, 6 months for the maximum short-term disability duration, etc.)
  • A clear statement on the feasibility of temporary substitutes and an assessment of the existing or potential talent sources when these are deemed necessary; (e.g., in time-sensitive environments such as call centers or health care facilities). Temporary talent source could include contract labor, but also cross-training across business functions as a form of temporary job-sharing
  • A discussion of the opportunities for mutually beneficial accommodations as allowed (or required) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The experts suggest a coordinated review of the employer’s benefits package and administration practices, which can reveal gaps in, or duplication of benefits.

The employee taking leave should be engaged in pre- and post-leave planning to help hand off responsibilities to others and smooth the transition for his return. The plans should be clearly communicated with his affected coworkers.

Managers and supervisors are also advised to check in regularly with workers who are affected by a colleague’s leave to identify and address any problems that may emerge.


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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