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Addressing Absence Management and Retention in the Fashion and Apparel Industry

From addressing changing consumer preferences and supply chain challenges to mergers and acquisitions, there’s much for fashion and apparel businesses to tackle during this time of both uncertainty and promise. The global pandemic has amplified these challenges that employers in the fashion and apparel industry are facing today. Now more than ever, organizations face heightened challenges for employee recruitment, retention, wellbeing and engagement. Additionally, COVID-19 and intensifying competition for talent has caused many small- and medium-size employers to reevaluate their absence management policies.

According to Hub International’s 2021 Workforce Absence Management Survey, 75% of employers consider COVID-19 a catalyst for future changes in their paid leave programs. About four in 10 say they need their leave policies to be more attractive to stay competitive. Those findings are indicative of how the workforce absence management landscape has been permanently altered by the events of the last 18 months.

There are several trends that will influence absence management policies for fashion and apparel employers over the long term and affect how absence management policies are enacted and enforced:

  • The telecommuting boom as a result of COVID-19 isn’t fading and employers are offering extending this or offering hybrid options longterm. The reasons for expanded telecommuting go beyond workplace safety: Telecommuting gives employees greater flexibility and work-life balance.
  • When it comes to recruitment, compromise and flexibility are needed, because employees may look for other opportunities if, against their wishes, they’re forced to return to the office. Therefore, when management requires workers to come into an office, they need to communicate a sound business reason for doing so. Employers may want to reconsider mandates and give work-from-home options, even if it’s for one or two days a week.
  • Smaller employers lag behind larger organizations on paid parental leave. The inability to afford paid parental leave benefits is one of the top reasons for an organization to not provide paid parental leave. A proposed national Paid Family and Medical Leave would require employers to give 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Passage of this legislation is not guaranteed, and it is unclear how a national requirement would preempt existing statutory requirements.

Government mandates present challenges, but not overwhelming ones. Federal and state leave mandates can be a difficult HR challenge. The emergency measures in response to COVID-19 required sick leave, family leave and medical leave. Despite the additional burden, 80% of Hub’s survey respondents indicated not struggling to comply with mandated leaves. Granted, this may be a function of the generally smaller geographic footprint of small- to medium-size employers, with fewer locations and fewer state mandates.

What to Do Next

A well-designed and -maintained leave management program not only will sidestep compliance issues but help in offering a competitive package of total rewards that will help attract and keep talent.

Taking these steps in the midst of change can help organizations stay ahead:

  • Absence management policies are integral to a holistic benefits strategy that aligns with recruiting and retention strategies but also encompasses health and wealth benefits. These policies should not be designed in a vacuum.
  • Company paid leave programs should be designed keeping statutory mandates compliance in mind.
  • As employees can oftentimes find absence management programs difficult and confusing to understand, ensure policy descriptions and explanations are communicated clearly and reflect workers’ value to the organization.

Workforce absence management programs are critical for fashion and apparel businesses to succeed in today’s environment — handled strategically under an integrated benefits program, these programs don’t just help shape business cultures, but also make for more efficient organizations that are attractive to potential employees.

Frank DeLucia currently serves as senior vice president of Hub International Northeast, a leading full-service global insurance brokerage. With over three decades of experience, DeLucia specializes in building insurance and risk management programs for the real estate and apparel industries and is a long-time active member of the Fashion Service Network (FSN). He can be reached by phone at 212-338-2395 or at frank.delucia@hubinternational.com. For more information on Hub, please visit hubinternational.com.

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