Four Reasons to Consider HR as the Hub of Your Disability Program

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Jeff Smith
Woman sitting at a desk shaking another woman's hand.

It’s a surprise to many employers that their employees are often unaware of whom to go to for assistance with a health condition in the workplace. While direct supervisors are quick to assume their employees will come to them with any problems, what they may not realize are the challenges or discomfort an employee feels by talking about a specific health condition.

We recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition at work to gauge who they turned to and how they received support. These findings revealed that employees seek support from a variety of places, which can impact their overall disability management experience.

Inconsistency in how employers manage their disability processes can have a negative impact on their employees and organization. Here are four reasons why it’s important for employers to consider establishing HR managers as the center of the disability management process:

  1. Going to Direct Supervisors Could Result in Negative Experiences
    Employees who worked with their direct supervisor felt negatively labeled by their condition and were scared about how they would be treated at work. For example, we found that 53 percent of employees were too scared to bring up a health concern and 49 percent felt they were treated differently after talking about their health condition.1

    These negative perceptions and experiences can ultimately hold many employees back from getting the help they need, leaving them to stay silent and not address their condition. Having HR take the lead to manage employees’ health conditions can help minimize these concerns and create a more positive employee experience. In addition, training direct supervisors about how to spot and address employees’ health concerns can also go a long way to help mitigate these issues.

  2. HR Managers Help Create Positive Employee Experiences
    Employees who worked with their HR manager felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition. Consider that 73 percent of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61 percent of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.1

    Additionally, our research shows that employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and, because of that, returned to work 44 percent faster than when they worked with a direct supervisor. This support and communication with employees on leave is crucial in reinforcing their value and creating a positive experience.

  3. Awareness and Connection to Additional Resources Increases
    Beyond the support HR managers provide, they are typically more aware of available resources and how to connect their employees to the proper programs to treat their condition. Of the employees who went to their HR manager with health-related concerns, 85 percent were connected to their organization’s disability carrier, whereas only 67 percent of employees who went to their direct supervisor were connected.

    This connection is critical since employees who used at least one workplace resource felt more valued by their employer and more productive on the job. What’s more, we found that 79 percent of employees who were connected to EAP and other programs felt more understood and valuable because accommodations were made. From financial wellness support to one-on-one sessions with a health coach, HR can connect employees to the proper resources to provide tailored assistance to meet each employee’s needs.

  4. Implementing Accommodations Can Help Boost Productivity
    With their awareness of additional resources comes their understanding of accommodations. We found that of the employees who took a disability leave, those who received accommodations spent 30 fewer days on leave than those who didn’t receive support from their employer, on average. Not only can accommodations help employees return to work faster, it can help increase employee productivity. After receiving support from their employer, 93 percent of employees said they could perform their job effectively.

While it may make sense to put HR at the center of your disability process, training direct supervisors can be an important component as well. Informing them of how to talk to employees about their health conditions, ways to refer employees to HR for assistance and how to provide support for stay-at-work or return-to-work plans can go a long way to support employees on their journey.

In considering HR as the center of an organization’s disability management process, employers can take the first step toward creating a consistent experience for employees. This can be crucial in ensuring every employee receives the same opportunity for assistance and support when dealing with a health condition. Not only can it foster a positive employee experience, but also help ensure employees receive the support they need to stay productive, healthy and happy at work.


1 Data based on a survey of 528 participants conducted in April 2017 by a third-party research firm hired by The Standard.