Today's Worksite Challenges

Keeping Pace With Employee Expectations: The Role Of Leave And Disability Management

Formal leave and disability programs better prepared employers for shifting worker needs

A study from The Standard shows that while most employers aren’t fully ready to deal with shifting employee expectations, those with formal leave and disability programs were better positioned for the future. View findings from the study here.

March 06, 2023 09:00 AM Eastern Standard Time–PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Workforce trends have evolved significantly over the past few years, as COVID-19, social upheaval and economic uncertainty have led to changes in what workers expect. A recent study found that 59% of U.S. employers didn’t feel fully prepared to meet their employees’ changing needs and expectations. However, employers with formal leave and disability management programs felt more prepared to support these shifting employee needs.

The study, Keeping Pace With Employee Expectations: The Role of Leave and Disability Management — conducted by an independent research and polling firm on behalf of The Standard — used data collected in 2018 and 2022 to measure how employers viewed their efforts to manage leave and disability.

The employers with formal programs did see a rise in factors that signal a more satisfied workforce. Those factors included greater employee retention, stronger morale, higher productivity and lower absenteeism. Retention improved significantly among employers with formal programs in 2022. The number of employers with formal leave or disability programs reporting greater retention rose more than 25% since 2018.

The research also shows that workers’ requests for reasonable accommodations rose for most conditions, including chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. Time was the most typical adjustment provided by employers, as 75% said they modified a work schedule or granted leave. Brenda Smith, senior director of Workplace PossibilitiesSM at The Standard, said, “This finding doesn’t surprise me. During the pandemic, flexibility from employers emerged as key for U.S. workers. People were dealing with kids attending school from home and helping aging parents. Employees no longer view flexibility as a nice-to-have.”

During the pandemic, flexibility from employers emerged as key for U.S. workers. Employees no longer view flexibility as a nice-to-have...

On the behavioral health front, the report shows that secrecy and stigma continue to be challenges. The research reveals a 32% increase since 2018 in employers who reported a stigma attached to people with mental health conditions. Seventy percent of employers said their greatest challenge in supporting employees with mental health issues was workers hiding their conditions. This was a slight increase from 2018.

Employer Sentiment

The study shows mixed findings on employers’ confidence in their ability to manage leave and disability. While confidence improved since 2018, less than 50% of employers said they felt very confident about how their company managed absence and disability in 2022. However, employers with formal programs were better positioned in this area. On average, employers with leave management programs were 31% more likely to report feeling very confident they were handling absence well. Those with programs for managing disability were, on average, 43% more likely to say the same thing about their performance.

Return-to-work and stay-at-work programs were a prime source of optimism among employers. In 2022, employers with return-to-work and stay-at-work programs generally reported that these programs were the most successful of the ones they offered. The number of employers reporting this increased 29% since 2018.

To access more insights and resources from The Standard, visit




A third-party independent research firm conducted a survey of 524 HR decision-makers on behalf of The Standard. This 2022 survey replicated a subset of questions from the Disability Readiness Index survey this research firm conducted for The Standard in 2018.
All companies surveyed offered group short-term and long-term disability benefits. All respondents had experienced employees being on leave, returning to work or needing accommodations because of disabling conditions.
Sample data were weighted by company size to reflect the full estimated population of HR decision-makers. The research firm based this weighting on the most recent data available from the Statistics of U.S. Businesses, provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, and the most recent SHRM Human Capital Benchmarking Survey.
Field dates: March 15 to April 15, 2022
Sampling of HR decision-makers was stratified to ensure representation of all company sizes as follows:
Size of Company
2018 Sample
2022 Sample
25–99 employees
100–2,499 employees
2,500–4,999 employees
5,000+ employees
About The Standard
The Standard is a family of companies dedicated to helping customers achieve financial well-being and peace of mind. In business since 1906, we are a leading provider of financial protection products and services for employers and individuals. Our products include group and individual disability insurance, group life, dental and vision insurance, voluntary (employee-paid) benefits, absence management services, and retirement plans and annuities for employers and individuals. For more information about The Standard, visit or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
The Standard is the marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc., and its subsidiaries: Standard Insurance Company, The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York, Standard Retirement Services, Inc., StanCorp Mortgage Investors, Inc., StanCorp Investment Advisers, Inc., StanCorp Real Estate, LLC, and StanCorp Equities, Inc.