Although the rising cost of health care has grabbed headlines, the cost of employee absences has garnered less attention. And yet, the cost to companies when employees miss work is substantial - whether the absence is caused by sick days, disability leave, Workers' Compensation, or other approved leave.
Some expenses include hiring temporary workers, paying overtime, lost productivity, and dissatisfied customers. Furthermore, employee absences stemming from illness or injury may be associated with substantial medical costs. UnumProvident, a provider of income protection insurance, estimates that the ten percent of the work force filing
The aging of the work force and an increasing number of claims for "new" types of disabilities (see right-hand box) can push the cost of employee absences even higher. Clearly, it is in an employer's financial interest to find ways to better manage disability-related absences. One approach that has shown promise is integrated disability management (IDM).
An Effective IDM ProgramA key feature of an IDM program should be a system that facilitates easy and early reporting of absences. Such a system provides a "heads up" that an employee is absent. It also triggers a determination of whether the absence is one that needs management to ensure proper medical treatment and a prompt return to work.
Example: An employee experiencing back problems may miss a few days of work when the condition first flares up. After time and without the right treatment, the condition may worsen to the point of a lengthier absence and a short or long-term disability claim. Under a traditional approach to disability claims management, the employee likely would not be contacted for intervention until some point after short-term disability (or even long-term disability) benefits have begun. By then, a disability mentality can set in.
Statistics show the longer an individual is out of work for a disability, the less likely the person is to return.
In contrast, with an integrated approach to disability management and a good absence-reporting system, the employee in the example above could be contacted early on. At that point, the reason for the absence could be determined, and the back strain condition managed to ensure timely and appropriate care. A company can also determine whether workplace adjustments are needed, along with the possibility of the employee returning to work on a reduced schedule or in a modified position until full recovery.
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