The Benefits Portfolio

Getting Ahead Of The Curve At Work

Helping employers address absence and disability

by Jung Ryu

Mr. Ryu is national accounts practice leader for The Standard, responsible for developing comprehensive disability management solutions that address the whole person to meet the needs of the most complex clients. Visit

No employer wants to be behind the curve when it comes to providing for its employees. But when business is strong and employees are busy, employers can be lulled into a sense of false security, confident that their operations are running smoothly. As recent research conducted by The Standard suggests, however, companies are wise to take a closer look at their benefits offerings – and their disability management programs in particular.

Our research findings uncovered that many HR decision-makers say their benefits are not well-managed and don’t have confidence that they assist employees with changing needs. With so many new variables in the modern American workforce – such as more generations than ever before working at the same time, all with different priorities – HR managers have become overwhelmed. They address needs as they can, but are looking to you to help them when they can’t.

As a producer, you bring invaluable knowledge that can help solve the challenge. Armed with the right statistics and guidance, you can help put employers on a path to absence and disability management readiness. With your help, employers will be ahead of the curve, addressing employee disability and absence proactively while attracting valuable new talent along the way.

Doing the math: How much does employee absence cost?

While some employers may doubt the impact of absence and disability on their organizations, the numbers don’t lie. Recent research The Standard conducted showed that one employee, on average, could spend as many as 112 days a year away from work on disability due to mental health conditions. Employees with chronic conditions are out of work an average of 64 days a year, and the average leave time for all types of disability claims isn’t much shorter – 59 days.
Long term, those extended absences lead to lost productivity, added responsibilities that have to be shifted to other workers and a hit to the company’s bottom line from paying an employee when they are not productive. Drains like these on productivity and profits aren’t sustainable.

It’s clear that lost workforce productivity and extended job vacancies take a toll on companies that don’t have robust disability and management programs already in place. This is one piece of knowledge that can help employers better understand how employee absence impacts the bottom line.

Risking valuable talent in an employee-driven job market

A strong economy leads to a favorable job market for employees. As job openings remain plentiful and businesses increasingly compete for valuable talent, workers are looking for positions with benefits that meet the needs of their varying lifestyles at the same time. Whether those needs are when, where and how people work or shifting family care responsibilities, employees today face a lot more productivity challenges inside and outside of work. Unfortunately, the gap between these new employee demands and existing employer offerings is widening.

Of the companies in our research, only 1 in 4 employers viewed their organization as a leader in absence and disability management.1 Just 38% felt ready to support remote workers, and only 16% felt ready to address part-time employees and “gig” workers with robust absence and disability management policies. To be fair, employers say they are providing accommodations, but they’re primarily offering basic accommodations like modified work schedules, ergonomic or adaptive equipment or referrals to support services.

Exacerbating the HR headache

Demands outside of work that can affect workplace productivity also are challenging companies. Our research indicated just 27% of HR decision-makers felt ready to support family and elder care issues, only 25% felt ready to support drug addiction and fewer than half felt confident helping accommodate employees with mental health conditions.
When formal programs are not implemented, though, employers, employees and HR managers all feel the effects. This makes it more important to develop robust absence and disability management programs that address employee demands and still make financial sense for the organization.

The solution: Using absence and disability to bolster the numbers

Demands outside of work that can affect workplace productivity also are challenging companies. Our research indicated just 27% of HR decision-makers felt ready to support family and elder care issues, only 25% felt ready to support drug addiction and fewer than half felt confident helping accommodate employees with mental health conditions...

To employers, addressing absence and disability-related leaves may seem like a complex and daunting task. However, the benefits of a robust absence and disability management program far exceed the challenge of implementing one. Our research shows that collaboration between medical, disability and employee assistance partners can improve employee performance in multiple ways.

On average, of employers with formal absence and disability programs in place, 39% reported lower absenteeism and 40% reported better employee retention. The programs also supported employee engagement – 36% reported better workplace morale and 32% reported improved workplace productivity.

Increasing employee satisfaction and avoiding litigation

It’s evident that employers with strong absence and disability management programs in place have these advantages over their competitors. Two additional benefits of a comprehensive disability management approach, meanwhile, are the employee support they provide and the streamlined workflow HR managers gain:

  • 1. Return-to-work and stay-at-work support
    Introducing a proactive disability management approach that addresses and reduces causes of disability can help employees stay on the job or help bring employees back to work sooner. A disability management program can also meet the needs of remote and gig workers who may be experiencing an illness, injury or disabling condition that’s impacting their work. Utilizing experts who can work with employees, recommend potential job modifications, provide emotional and behavioral support, and coordinate benefits from other programs can help ensure that employees receive the support they need, making them more productive and engaged employees.
  • 2. Managing accommodations and complying with regulations
    HR managers also benefit from strong absence and disability management programs. It’s no secret that managing accommodations as an HR decision-maker is difficult. A strong benefits program can help reduce an HR manager’s workload by providing support for employees that’s outside of their expertise.

Disability carriers can also help employers navigate the complexities of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Sixty-one percent of employers in a 2017 survey conducted by The Standard said that constantly changing disability laws and guidelines make it difficult to properly support employees.2 While disability carriers do not replace the employer’s legal responsibility to comply with the ADAAA, they are valuable partners for employers – supporting many of the obligations employers have under ADAAA, like the interactive process and providing expertise when determining reasonable accommodations that meet regulations and employee needs.

Getting ahead of the curve

Employers typically consider medical needs first when evaluating employee benefits. In reality, employee circumstances and needs are far more complex. The data consistently show that there’s an unmet need for employers and HR decision-makers who support employee health and productivity to think about benefits offerings differently.
In order to continue to demonstrate your value and expertise, it’s critical that you share important information with your clients to help them think differently about their benefits programs. As HR decision-makers look to you for cost-effective ways to address their needs, you can be the trusted advisor who guides employers toward absence and disability management programs that ensure the health of both their companies and their employees. With your help, employers will no longer be behind the curve – instead, they’ll be ahead of it. ◊



1. Absence and Disability Management: How Are You Delivering?,
2. Employee Disability Leave Study: The Link Between Disability Management and Employee Productivity,