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In case you missed it… Calculating the ROI of Disability Management Programs

Believe it or not, work is not only a means to make money, it’s actually good for you.  A 1995 study highlights that being able to work is ranked in the top three most important aspects of life by those who are ill.  When employees are absent from work it can isolate them from important supports and social interaction; and isolation, often combined with a lack of routine and structure, are known factors that increase psychological distress.  These were just a few of the key insights presented by Dr. Liz Scott, Principal and CEO of Organizational Solutions Inc. (OSI) at our CPBI lunch session on November 9th.

Dr. Scott says that employers who want to reduce the duration of absences and disabilities need to focus on claimants’ abilities, keep the lines of communication positive and eliminate barriers to a successful return to work.

“Doctors aren't necessarily our friend,” says Dr. Scott, as they are often sympathetic to the patient and can often be a barrier to bringing an employee back to work.  In Quebec, for example, the doctor’s word is taken as face value and not to be challenged.  Dr. Scott says we should not be asking physicians to determine whether an employee is fit to do their job.  If a physician tells an employee they are disabled, it may impact the employee’s belief about his or her ability to return to work, which can ultimately delay their return.  Most physicians have never worked in your job, so how can they assess if an employee can or can't work.  The doctor’s role should be limited to diagnosing, treating and assessing capabilities, not to authorize disability.

When an employee goes off on a disability leave, employers should let them know they look forward to seeing them back. A gesture as simple as sending a card can actually reduce durations by 30%. It’s called the “Hallmark” effect.  There are many factors that can impact an employee’s successful return to work. Some of these factors such as other stressors in their personal life and other underlying medical conditions can be more challenging for an employer to influence.   However, the employer can impact a successful return by facilitating positive social interactions and not trying to force the employee to return prematurely.

Mental disabilities still carry a stigma and can present barriers to a successful return.  Dr. Scott said she has actually seen colleagues turn and walk quickly in the other direction the first time they encounter an employee who has been away from work due to a mental disability. One way to facilitate positive social interactions upon the employee’s return is to assign them a buddy for the first few days back.

Tracking and monitoring data can also be powerful tools for reducing incidence and durations of absenteeism and disabilities.  One organization Dr. Scott worked with was experiencing high incidence of absence due to repetitive strain injuries at a packaging facility. They observed employees having challenges packing boxes on the line.  So, they asked the engineers make a few minor adjustments, which made packing the boxes much more ergonomic and resulted in an immediate reduction in repetitive strain injuries.

Investing in disability management programs can provide a significant return on investment.  One large organization with approximately 4,500 employees was able to reduce their total disability costs by about 25% or $2.8 million over a two year period after hiring OSI and implementing an integrated strategy.  Dr. Scott says “Never be happy with status quo, always be thinking how do we make this even better.”

- Kenneth MacDonald

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