A robust absence and disability management program can ensure evenÂ nontraditional workers remain healthy and productive.
By Melissa Oliver-Janiak
Maintaining the flexibility that todayâs workers demandÂ comes with many challenges for employers. In particularÂ for HR, the competitive economy is putting more pressureÂ on organizations to be prepared when nontraditionalÂ employees (remote and temporary workers) experience aÂ disability or absence issue. Developing a robust absenceÂ and disability management program is a critical and cost-effectiveÂ way to help organizations address all employeesâÂ health needs.
Remote and other nontraditional workers present uniqueÂ challenges for HR managers when administering absence,Â return-to-work, and disability programs. For example,Â how can organizations handle an ergonomics issue whenÂ an employee is using their own chair and desk? And, if anÂ employee misses work for an extended time, how can HRÂ return them to work when âworkâ is their home? GivenÂ that Gallup reports 43 percent of employed Americans saidÂ they spent at least some time working remotely, this is anÂ issue organizations canât afford to ignore.
Research suggests thereâs an unmet need for all partnersÂ who support employee health and productivity to workÂ more closely together. The Standardâs Absence andÂ Disability Readiness Index found that just 38 percentÂ of HR managers surveyed felt ready to support theÂ needs of remote workers and only 16 percent feltÂ ready to address part-time employees and gig workers.Â Without a comprehensive program to address complexÂ employee health needsâespecially in light of changingÂ workplace trends and employee demandsâcompaniesÂ could be putting employee engagement, retention, andÂ productivity at risk.
Managing remote workers is just one type of challengeÂ that HR leaders say they donât feel prepared to handle inÂ the absence and disability space. The Standardâs researchÂ also found that just 27 percent of HR decision-makers feltÂ ready to accommodate family and elder care issues, whileÂ 25 percent felt ready to support employeesâ drug addictionÂ challenges.
Understanding and addressing these trends is importantÂ for the health of both employees and the organizationsÂ they support. Research finds that a robust disabilityÂ management approachâprograms that provideÂ individualized care through stay-at-work and return-to-workÂ supportâcan create the conditions remote and part-timeÂ workers need to successfully bring them back to workÂ sooner.
For example, an employee with a musculoskeletalÂ condition may be working remotely and not have theÂ proper equipment to manage their condition andÂ pain. Having a program in place that can work withÂ the employee to identify the best equipmentâsuch asÂ reviewing and discussing various sit-stand work stationÂ optionsâand providing that equipment for the employeeÂ can ensure they are able to continue working and theirÂ condition does not deteriorate. Of employers with formalÂ programs in The Standardâs research, 32 percent averagedÂ better employee productivity, 36 percent averaged higherÂ workplace morale, and 40 percent averaged improvedÂ employee retention.
Collaboration between medical, disability, and employeeÂ assistance partners is key to creating adequate supportÂ for these issues and helping affected employees stayÂ productive. And the investment in proactively addressingÂ these employee needs tends to outweigh the costs. TheÂ Index found that nearly 70 percent of HR decision-makersÂ at large companies and one-third at small companies sayÂ theyâve experienced complaints or lawsuits related toÂ their disability management practices. And 92 percent ofÂ all respondents report that formal employee disabilityÂ programs have helped control costs and reduced exposureÂ to risk.
Putting an Absence and Disability Plan into ActionÂ
The benefits of a comprehensive absence and disabilityÂ management plan are clear. Consider the following stepsÂ in order to put a plan into action to bolster strategies andÂ prevent attrition of talent.
- Provide return-to-work support. Fewer than half of theÂ employers in The Standardâs research had formal return-to-work programs in place. Putting one on the agenda is aÂ great area in which to start.
- Manage accommodations. Be sure to provide theÂ appropriate resources to returning employees.
- Comply with legal regulations. Programs need to meetÂ regulations under the Americans with Disabilities ActÂ Amendments Act (ADAAA) to maintain compliance.
- Start measuring. Only about one-third of employersÂ with formal programs measure their performance. StartÂ by benchmarking key components of the absence andÂ disability programs.
- Better coordinate program components. OrganizationsÂ may have a great suite of benefit offerings, but theÂ different pieces often arenât coordinated well, andÂ employees arenât aware of the program components.Â Ensure workers understand the programs that are in placeÂ and what they encompass.
Addressing the needs of nontraditional workers shouldÂ be a top priority for companies looking to retain qualityÂ employees. By providing the support workers need toÂ remain in their positions, this will help them to stayÂ productive even during or after trying times.
Melissa Oliver-Janiak is the HR director of benefits at The Standard.