Integration Is Key to the Future of Absence and Disability Management

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Michael Klachefsky

When it comes to managing employee absence and disability while maintaining productivity in the workplace, many employers still silo these workplace issues and try to treat them separately in the occupational and nonoccupational areas. For instance, employers may have a workers’ compensation program in place — but not for short- and/or long-term disability. Or employers may not be properly equipped to track and manage the several different types of absences, as well as disabilities.

The key to solving some of these workplace issues is integration.

Joining absence and disability management together, along with several services and programs aimed at productivity and keeping employees on the job, enables a cohesive approach. The result is a powerful combination that can improve productivity and also reduce the duration, cost and impact of employee absence and disability.

Recent studies have shown success in this type of approach. In 2010, the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) conducted a study among 450 employers and provided them with a list of 26 different health- and productivity management (HPM) related practices. Here, we consider three of these practices, which were among those ranked by employers as having a “positive impact” on their workplace and are considered among the “essential elements of an effective and efficient health and productivity management (HPM) program.”1 These include:

  1. Transitional return-to-work (RTW) — Otherwise known as modified duties, light duties or job accommodations. Transitional RTW is intended to help an ill or injured employee recover at work while staying productive.
  2. Nurse case management — Employers have found success in having a nurse with RTW or adjudication experience manage absence and disability claims.
  3. On-site providers — Employers are starting to see the value of having medical/pharmacological and other health-related services available to employees in the workplace.

Putting the Three Practices Together

In most workplaces, these practices are used individually or even in a random manner. The connection of these practices is what makes them more powerful than when used alone.

In a white paper I recently authored, The Future of Absence and Disability Management, I explore the Workplace Possibilities program as a solution to the rising cost and impact of absence and disability in the workplace. There are major benefits of using an on-site disability management consultant, either a nurse or vocational specialist, who becomes the “quarterback” for uniting the three practices into one holistic system. Use of Workplace Possibilities reduces the average duration of short-term disability, thus saving the employer hard dollar costs in its self-insured or insured STD program.2 Above all, it offers an integrated approach to managing health, absence and disability by connecting employees to the employer’s specific health management programs when the employees need it the most — just before or just after a disabling medical condition causes them to leave the workplace.

 

1 The Impact of Health and Productivity Management Practices, Integrated Benefits Institute (July 2010, p.12).

2 The Standard internal data as of 2011.