What Do Innovation and Diversity Mean for Leave Professionals?

By: | October 25, 2018

Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

There are many trends shaping the workplace and increased risks faced by employers. While it’s difficult to rank these trends, currently there appears to be two main drivers of change.

The first is probably the one constant when it comes to change: A new generation entering the workplace. While much has been written about the outlook, goals, and skills of younger workers, one characteristic stands above the rest: comfort with and expectation of diversity.

While bias and stereotypical thinking have not disappeared and might never do so, younger workers are much less likely to express and act on them. And there is substantial evidence they simply don’t share those views as frequently.

The second trend impacting the workplace is a long economic recovery that shows no signs of ending soon. Employers are once again competing for talent and must often implement proactive policies to retain top candidates.

What’s perhaps most interesting about talent competition in this economic cycle is that it usually centers more on the quality of the workplace than the quantity of the pay packet.

That means there is a greater emphasis on benefits, from paid family leave to more flexible 401(k) programs. Employers are getting innovative with these programs to ensure they have the workforce they need to grow in an expanding economy.

In today’s economy, employers that embrace diversity and innovation usually find themselves a step ahead in attracting and retaining the talent they need to exploit this economy’s many opportunities.

Much of this innovation involves and requires the adoption of new and especially impactful programs and technology.

At the 2018 DMEC annual conference, innovation and diversity were key themes. Most speakers and presenters touched on these concerns in some way.  Here are just a few of the insights offered.


It can take engineer-level intelligence and work intensity to deliver today’s technology products and services. Ernst & Young LLP (EY) found that a formerly ignored population can deliver these traits — people on the autism spectrum. Presenters described how they built their program to recruit, equip and support employees on the autism spectrum.

Adding neurodiversity to the workplace solved problems that other employees weren’t aware of. As the presenters noted, accommodations EY made for individuals on the spectrum helped the entire team.

This program provides a good example of how embracing diversity in all its forms isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also good business.

Transgender Employees

Through growing awareness and education, there are now tools available to support people who have experienced a major shift in their gender identity and expression in a way that is helpful and legally compliant.

For many employers, embracing transgender employees requires changes in their processes and programs. This includes hiring or training qualified counselors who can identify psychological processes that may need and qualify for reasonable accommodations.

Of course, such counselors can identify the range of psychological processes that may require accommodations. This proactive approach to complying with the ADA and other laws enables employers to get ahead of the curve and help prevent medical, legal and other risks. It’s another example of how embracing diversity can benefit an entire organization.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

“Automatic” claim management using AI is happening already as carriers and other claim management vendors install AI systems, which they make available to clients through outsourced or co-sourced services.

Some insurance carriers that have not yet fully implemented AI systems are using outsourced AI organizations to review blocks of thousands of complex claims.

Since AI systems rely on ever-more data, using them means absence, HR and other managers need to be skilled in identifying and obtaining it. This often entails new training programs to bring these professionals up to speed in how to maximize employers’ investments in AI, big data, etc.

As a result, this latest round of technological innovation is resulting in real innovation in how employers view and train “soft skills” experts.

Diversity and innovation are self-reinforcing trends. In today’s economy, employers that embrace them usually find themselves a step ahead in attracting and retaining the talent they need to exploit this economy’s many opportunities.

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