The New Worksite Landscape

Advising Absence Management & Consultation

Making benefits packages grow fonder with income protection

by Bob Ruff

Mr. Ruff is senior vice president of Growth Solutions with Aflac. He is responsible for the development and execution of key growth initiatives for Aflac U.S., including product development, enrollment, business development and market development. Visit

From missing work to missing friends and family, workers across the globe have spent the last year dealing with the pandemic’s health and social ramifications. Though the U.S. thankfully is on a positive path forward with broader vaccination availability, Americans are still rightfully wondering how they can best protect their finances from similar potential issues in the future.

Perhaps for that reason, a recent LIMRA report found that in light of the pandemic, 25% of employers view short-term disability insurance as more important, and 22% view long-term disability insurance as more important.[1] Despite this growth in popularity, two-thirds of the private sector still does not offer long-term disability insurance whatsoever.[2]

As client demand for disability coverage increases in line with employees’ preferences – and as employers pursue other solutions and offerings like absence management or value-added services – it’s up to brokers and consultants to ensure their partners are offering the best options.

Keeping Up With The Times

The pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of having an income replacement safety net available. National and local governments understood that the risk of going without a paycheck for an extended period of time is simply too high and implemented wage-replacement programs for workers who have COVID-19.[3] These and other similar programs emphasize the necessity for workers to have income protection in place, whether employer-sponsored, individually purchased or public-based programs, for workplace absences caused by illnesses or injuries.

This confluence of factors – and specifically the higher risk of short-term disability – led more people to look to their employer or benefits provider for financial help. Therefore, brokers can work with clients to keep pace with the changing times and ensure the sufficiency of workplace disability plans in addressing employees’ needs.

With COVID-19 cases on the decline in the U.S., disability carriers are determining how their products can help clients and employees with income replacement. For example, Aflac offers riders for its group supplemental disability insurance assisting with lost wages for mental health issues or addictions inhibiting a person’s ability to work. The carrier also offers employer-sponsored group disability insurance through its 2020 acquisition of Zurich North America’s U.S. corporate group life and pensions business.

As employers seek out the best possible disability insurance solutions for their workforces, brokers may also strive to align themselves with insurers whose policies are tailored to the unique challenges of this moment – whether that is missed work due to illness, injury, or mental and emotional health.

Minding The Employment Gaps

Pandemic conditions required some employees to take unexpected leave because working while sick, particularly at a job requiring on-site interaction, was not optional. While some may be able to continue working from home when feeling unwell, the added burden of serving as caregiver for a family member or young child, whether sick or well, is challenging, even in a post-pandemic, work-from-home world. These often unpredictable absences make it more challenging for employers to maintain efficiencies, manage work schedules, and continue to provide appropriate benefits according to state and federal laws.

This confluence of factors – and specifically the higher risk of short-term disability – led more people to look to their employer or benefits provider for financial help. Therefore, brokers can work with clients to keep pace with the changing times and ensure the sufficiency of workplace disability plans in addressing employees’ needs...

Unexpected absences often cause undue stress for the 81% of U.S. employees who do not have access to paid family leave through their employers.[4] While a patchwork of programs created state by state, such as those in Massachusetts and Washington, take steps to address paid family and medical leave policy issues, many were implemented pre-pandemic to attract and retain top talent. That means employers should consider comprehensively reviewing their absence-management solution.[5],[6]

Some of the absence consultation and management services insurers offer include paid and unpaid leave management, Americans with Disabilities Act administration assistance, and State and Medical Leave Act compliance management. These can be offered alongside disability coverage to ensure employers minimize the negative impact of worker absenteeism while maximizing financial assistance to employees needing time off. Absence management partners can also assist employers with coordinating all the programs an employer may have. As a bonus brokers can emphasize, many absence-management solutions are included in supplemental benefits packages, meaning solutions can be employed at little cost to the business.

Setting Minds At Ease

The pandemic interrupted social interactions for millions of Americans, leading to a heightened awareness of the mental and emotional health effects of quarantining or isolation. SHRM reported last year that more than 40% of U.S. employees said they have felt hopeless, burned out or exhausted as they grapple with lives altered by COVID-19.[7] Given these effects, employees will likely show more interest in acquiring coverage for expenses related to mental health and educating workforces those already available, especially given how mental health concerns can take a toll on productivity and workplace happiness.

To address workers’ more unique wishes, employers can offer value-added services as part of their benefits package. In fact, a recent study found that 63% of employees expect their employers to offer expanded benefits solutions, including mental health assistance, to help them feel more comfortable returning to a physical worksite, and Employee Assistance Programs are one of the top-five highest ranking value-added services for workers next to flex scheduling.[8]

EAPs assist employees by matching them with work-life specialists who can help address and overcome mental health issues affecting workplace performance. Other services include telecounseling or telepsychiatry, allowing the opportunity to speak remotely to a helpful, listening ear.

Brokers can educate clients on the different ways they can prepare for the upcoming enrollment season and foster a workplace culture that supports employees amid a period of unpredictable absences and keeps the trains running until they come back at full strength.




1 LIMRA. “Impact of COVID-19 on Employers’ Approaches to Workplace Benefits.” Accessed April 2021. – :~:text=The COVID-19 pandemic has, or make other operational changes. & text= To explore these issues, LIMRA,13 and June 2, 2020.
2 Social Security Administration. “Social Security Fact Sheet.” Accessed April 2021.
3 San Francisco Chronicle. “SF to pay low-wage workers who get COVID-19 to stay home and isolate.” Accessed April 2021.
4 National Partnership for Women & Families. “At some point, nearly everyone will need to take time away from work to deal with a serious personal or family health condition, or to bond with a new child.” Accessed April 2021.
5 The Standard. “Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Starts in 2021.” Accessed April 2021.
6 The Standard. “Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave: 6-Month Countdown.” Accessed April 2021.
7 SHRM. “SHRM Research: COVID-19 takes a toll on employees’ mental well-being.” Accessed April 2021.
8 The 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report is the 10th annual Aflac employee benefits study examining benefits trends and attitudes. Conducted by Kantar on behalf of Aflac, the study captured responses from 2,000 employees and 1,200 employers across the United States in various industries. Learn more at
The content within is for informational purposes for agent and broker-facing audiences. This information is not approved to distribute to prospective insureds, to prospective accounts, or to use as a solicitation. Misrepresenting this, or any, information to solicit or induce an insured to lapse, forfeit, or surrender an insurance policy is prohibited by law. Any use not specifically permitted herein is strictly prohibited. Aflac includes Aflac and/or Aflac New York and/or Continental American Insurance Company and/or Continental American Life Insurance Company.
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