Consider the unavoidable: Some percentage of a company’s employees will experience an illness or disability in any given year. For many employers, providing disability income insurance (DI) is the only solution for dealing with absent workers.
It’s a passive role, though, with the company waiting for the employee to return to work. In the meantime, co-workers or temporary staff try to cover their absent colleague’s duties. Employee morale, customer service and productivity might suffer, but that’s expected when an experienced employee is out—or is it?
More employers are rejecting this laissez-faire approach by implementing return-to-work (RTW) programs for employees. In 2007, 39% of plan sponsors said they were involved in RTW initiatives to some extent. That number had grown to 45% by 2010, according to Prudential’s Fifth Annual Study of Employee Benefits.
The Value of RTW
RTW programs can help save costs and boost morale, both of which can lead to increased employee productivity. Today, companies are running lean and absences impose both additional direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include wages and benefits paid to absent employees; indirect costs include lost productivity, expenses of hiring and training replacement workers, and the risk of disrupting customer relationships.
The study found that RTW programs can cut these costs:
• 66% of employers providing accommodations to assist employees in returning to work reported that the strategy succeeded at providing the desired cost savings;
• 38% said it had been highly successful. At one large financial services company where Prudential provided enhanced rehabilitation services to disabled employees, the company saved an average $52,800 benefit expense per year for every 1,000 employees.
It’s difficult to place a numeric value on employee morale, but consider the employees’ perspective. RTW programs help returning employees focus on what they can rather than can’t do and provide the structure to support that transition.
This gives disabled employees the opportunity to retain job skills and bring their income closer to pre-disability levels. Getting back to work sooner in some capacity increases the morale of both the affected workers and their coworkers, particularly those coworkers who had been covering the absent employees’ duties in addition to their own.
Reducing the amount of time an employee is out of work on short-term disability is the most pressing issue for employers. Staffing, including absent employees, affect employers’ ability to meet the business demands of their customers.
Multiple Approaches to RTW
RTW programs recognize that although an employee may have limitations, what matters are the person’s capabilities, not disabilities. Each case consequently calls for an individual plan to get the employee back to work based on his or her circumstances. RTW programs reintegrate employees into the workplace through various accommodations that can include:
Assist-at-Work: Depending on the medical issue, it may be possible for an employee to keep working at least part-time during the initial illness period, without having to go out on full disability.
Workplace modification: This can include workstation adjustments, computer software or equipment, vehicle modification, or communication devices.