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Why Disability Programs Are The Solution To Extended Absences

A company can’t run on two-thirds of its workforce. Unfortunately, due to disability related leaves, some companies are forced to do that. A recent study conducted by The Standard showed that one employee, on average, could spend as many as 112 days a year away from work on disability leave due to mental health conditions. Employees with chronic conditions are out of work an average of 64 days a year, and the average leave time for all types of disability claims isn’t much shorter — 59 days.

Although these numbers don’t look promising for employers, there is a clear solution: a strong absence and disability management program. As a benefits broker, you have both an opportunity and a responsibility to advise human resource decision-makers about programs that improve employee attendance and bring them back to work. By doing so, you’re helping employers be fundamentally more productive.

Addressing A Longstanding Issue

Disability and absence are often invisible drains on productivity and overall workforce performance, in the sense that employees who are out of work on disability can quickly turn “out of sight, out of mind” for employers. The Standard’s Absence and Disability Readiness Index states that only one in four employers view their companies as leaders when it comes to managing employee absence and disability. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of employers (64%) scored a C, D or F in workplace disability management.

These are sobering statistics for employers facing an increasingly employee-driven job market. In addition to lost time and productivity, organizations that fail to address absence and disability needs jeopardize their own ability to retain valuable talent. In a competitive economic landscape, employees will increasingly look to employers with robust benefits programs that address their needs.

Calculating The Cost

When thinking about the factors that cause extended employee absences, employers should consider the wide range of temporary and chronic conditions that can trigger a disability leave, such as mental health conditions, drug addiction, illness, injuries or musculoskeletal conditions. The impact of disabilities on employee absence quickly adds up — six in 10 U.S. companies report having job openings that remain vacant for 12 weeks or longer per year. Taken together, these productivity losses and job vacancies quickly become expensive for employers as well.

The Standard’s research also found organizations that proactively address employee absence and disability report better success managing these challenges. Having programs in place that support both absence and disability needs can help with accommodations and have a positive effect on employee engagement. Of employers with formal programs, 32% reported improved employee productivity, 36% had improved workplace morale and 40% indicated better employee retention.

Communicating The Benefits Of Disability Management

In addition to the economic advantage they provide, absence and disability management programs offer a wide array of supplementary benefits:

1. Return-to-work support

Most employers agree: When disability prevents an employee from working, the goal is to bring them back as quickly as possible. Despite this, fewer than half of the employers in our study had formal return-to-work and stay-at-work strategies in place.

A strong benefits program, with consultants who work alongside clients to coordinate return-to-work plans, can greatly improve the employee leave process. This support can take many forms, including monitoring employee progress, providing worksite modifications, addressing emotional and behavioral needs, and coordination between benefits.

2. Accommodations management

Without a strong absence and disability program in place, providing employees with the appropriate resources can turn into a difficult guessing game. HR decision-makers are often left to accommodate their employees alone, causing delays in the return-to-work process or preventing stay-at-work success. A competent disability carrier can help HR managers create the right provisions for employees in need. 

3. Legal regulation compliance

Due to changing regulations, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act has presented a real challenge for employers. Our research found that 61% of employers agreed that changing disability laws and guidelines make it difficult to properly support employees.

Although disability carriers do not replace the employer’s legal responsibility to comply with the ADA, they can still provide valuable assistance. Disability consultants can provide expertise and help clients determine reasonable accommodations that meet their employees’ needs while still complying with ADA regulations.

Applying The Solution

The facts are clear: Employers that ignore absence and disability management programs do so at their own economic risk. As a benefits broker, your role in this changing economic landscape can be the solution organizations desperately need by offering expert counsel to HR managers struggling to keep up.

Armed with the knowledge that strong disability programs improve employee productivity, reduce employer exposure to risk and improve retention in an employee-favored job market, HR decision-makers are far more likely to consider strengthening their current programs or implementing new ones.

Now is the time to help employers apply the organizational solution they need — one that will inevitably enhance your client relationships at the same time.

Jung Ryu is national accounts practice leader for The Standard. He may be contacted at [email protected] [email protected].

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