7 ways to integrate leave management into your human capital strategy


How many times have you heard the term integration in the realm of leave management? We have tried to integrate our disability, wellness, condition management, workers compensation, safety and other leave programs with little success over the years. There always seem to be some issues that arise, especially when multiple vendors are in place.

There is a growing body of evidence that shows the inextricable linkage of health and safety.

About the only successful integration we have seen has been with short- and long-term disability, life insurance and FMLA/ADA. But even that has only meant a seamless process for handling leaves and claims providing an easy end-user experience. In fact, most employers would be hard pressed to say that these programs significantly improve productivity or lower costs.

Workers Compensation and Disability

In no area does the value of integration elude us more than in the cross section of workers compensation and disability. The unnatural distinction of the disabled worker is two-fold:

  • One in the differentiation from an able-bodied peer
  • The other between the on- and off-the-job claim

The reasons have abounded, including: separation of risk management and employee benefits, lack of vendor integration and the lack of hard data showing the value of integration.

However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows the inextricable linkage of health and safety.

Workers Compensation (WC) claims—along with health, leave and presenteeism costs—rise with co-morbidities linked to poor lifestyle choices. Obese individuals file two times the number of WC claims according to a Duke University Medical Center study. Furthermore, the University of Michigan found high-risk individuals have two times the WC claim costs of low-risk individuals.

85% of people with disabilities say that a job is important to their happiness

Companies that understand that leave management is an integral part of an overarching human capital strategy don’t put disability management in a silo. They know not to discriminate with the disabled and try to manage these employees as they would any other. It does not surprise them that 85% of people with disabilities say that a job is important to their happiness. They also don’t view disability or workers compensation as products to be bought. These are critical aspects of a company’s culture and infrastructure.

7 Keys to Lowering Costs and Raising Productivity

An integrated strategy to lower costs and keep valued employees productive has seven key elements:

1. Engagement

We need to focus on engagement whether or not an employee is disabled; the two pillars of engagement with any employee are motivation and ability. For example, there are natural barriers that form and impact motivation when an employee goes on leave. They may feel shame, guilt or defensiveness. How the employer reacts to the employee can serve to break down those walls. Simply setting expectations can mitigate an employee’s fears that they may be letting the employer down.

2. Ability Mindset

Disabled individuals, like their peers, want and need to feel competent. In a three-part series on absence management Aetna makes the point that we need to move from disability towards an ability mindset. That in itself can be a motivator, but an employer should focus on all three engagement levers: the personal, social and structural.

3. Management

An employee who does not return to work within the first 30 days after a disability is much less likely to return at all.

Having committed management is critical in this, and they should be trained to work with the employee and provide the resources and accommodations that employees need to be successful.

4. Communication is Critical

Including all stakeholders prior to integration to get their input and prepare all affected parties for change. It is hard to over-communicate when making significant changes.

5. Incentives Can Help Too

89% of employers in that Aetna study believe that incentives should be provided for participating in return to work. With such a program, an employee could receive up to 100% of pre-disability earnings whether or not they return full-time or to the same job.

6. Data

No program is complete without reporting and analytics, but it is critical that we see the value of integration.

7. Timing

Statistics show that an employee who does not return to work within the first 30 days after a disability is much less likely to return at all. Therefore timing of engagement is critical.

Under the lens of productivity, having an integrated strategy is the exception rather than the norm, but focusing in these 7 areas can ease the burden on your employees.

Your management, communication and culture can help to overshadow any issues with integrating your infrastructure that are bound to occur.

There are no carriers that handle all pieces and even what they do handle is generally not done seamlessly. It is left to the employer to bring it together themselves or through a third party.

On the positive side, there are data warehouses that can pull all the data together and provide actionable analytics and third-party vendors that can create a seamless employee interface. And remember the importance of timing.

About Brian Donnelly

Brian Donnelly is a Vice President of Willis Towers Watson's Human Capital Practice located in Chicago, where he ap…
Categories: Claim & Risk Control, Employee Wellbeing

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