For a worker who is coping with the pain, loss of mobility, and other problems associated with a serious illness or injury, a sense of isolation from colleagues can make a tough situation worse.

A sense of isolation can lead to depression, and depression can lead to a costly, extended and potentially preventable disability leave.

The best cure: Communicate with workers with health problems early and often. Show those workers that they are not alone; help them feel connected to their colleagues and their employers.

Benefits advisors should match employers with a disability insurance provider that understands the importance of the human touch, and that knows how to work in concert with the employer and the treating physician to shift the emphasis from disability to ability.

Looking to the employer for help

For many workers, employers are the primary source of information about disability insurance, according to The Hartford’s 2009 Benefit Landscape Study.

The study found that employees are twice as likely to think of the employer as the single best source of information about disability coverage as they are to think of the insurance carrier, the spouse or other immediate family members as the single best source. When workers become disabled, they turn to employers for support.

When workers with potentially disabling conditions see that employers care enough to work on their behalf, those workers are more willing to become active participants in their own recovery.

Here are five tips you can give employer clients to help them help employees bounce back.

The employer should:

1. Become an advocate for the disabled worker. Employers are in an excellent position to provide some education and help employees understand the disability claim process.

2. Ensure that employees understand the importance of disability insurance. Employees ought to understand how disability insurance protects their income and provides resources that can speed up the recovery process. The Hartford benefits survey found, for example, that 61% of disabled workers with disability insurance returned to work within 6 months. Only 48% of the disabled workers without disability insurance returned to work that quickly.

3. Clarify the purpose of workers’ compensation. Otherwise, employees may not understand the difference between workers’ comp and their disability benefits, and your employer clients may not get the full credit they deserve from employees for providing such an important benefit.

4. Provide resources aimed at disabled employees. Benefits advisors can offer checklists, Web tools and other tools to help employer clients gather contact information for human resources managers, benefits managers and other people that disabled employees may need to talk to. In addition to contact information for internal resources, a packet for disabled employees might include insurance provider contact information, forms, materials that explain disability insurance, employee assistance program contact information, and a description of the services that the EAP can provide.

5. Use technology to help keep employees who are out stay in touch. If your clients encourage employees who are home with health problems to communicate with colleagues through e-mail and company-owned social media sites, those employees may be more enthusiastic about returning to work. And, once they return, they will be up-to-date on all of the latest company news.

Glenn Shapiro is vice president of claims for The Hartford’s Group Benefits Division. He can be reached at glenn.shapiro@hartfordlife.com.