Disability PLanning

Support Programs and Human Interaction Help Bring Employees Back to Work Faster After Disability Leave

Study: Comprehensive disability management programs can boost efforts around employee recruitment, retention and financial well-being

September 20, 2018 — PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Employees with health conditions are inevitable in the workplace. But in its Employee Disability Leave study, Standard Insurance Company (The Standard) found that, despite this common occurrence, the way many employers handle their employees’ health conditions can negatively affect productivity, time out of office and overall employee experience.

“With benefits packages being a core component of most employers’ recruitment and retention strategies, employers are trying to find more creative ways to manage costs and address the key needs of employees,” says Jung Ryu, national accounts practice leader at The Standard. “As employers look to do more to boost financial wellness efforts, they may be missing a key way to support employees with disabling health conditions. These employees are often financially stressed, and their condition can often worsen or take longer to recover if not addressed.”

Workplace resource programs can provide holistic support

Integration between workplace resource programs — including services provided by a disability insurance carrier, disease management, wellness and employee assistance program — can help improve employees’ experiences at work and aid in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan. The survey found that:

  • 97 percent of employees who were able to stay at work were connected with a workplace resource program.
  • 47 percent of employees with a chronic condition are not referred to any workplace resource program.

“Workplace resources — such as a disability carrier or EAP provider — can support employees while they work through an illness or injury and go beyond addressing their health condition,” Ryu says. “Because many employees have concerns about the state of their finances after a health condition, these services can provide holistic support. This approach can help shorten disability leave duration or prevent an employee taking leave altogether.”

Health conditions impact time out of office

The employees surveyed experienced a range of health conditions. Nearly half of employees surveyed (47 percent) had a chronic condition — including cancer, mental health condition, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Among employees who required a disability leave, length of leave varied by condition:

  • 46 days: average length of leave for fractures
  • 64 days: average length of leave for chronic conditions
  • 112 days: average length of leave for mental health conditions

“To help reduce time out of the office, employers should look to their disability program to help,” Ryu says. “Comprehensive disability management can help employees in their recovery, support financial wellness efforts through program referrals and create an approach that fosters productivity. This can make employees feel valued and provide a strong foundation for returning to work.”

Who employees ask for help defines their disability experience

The survey found that employees are approaching both their HR manager and direct supervisor for assistance with a health condition. Overall, HR managers provided a better experience than direct supervisors — as 48 percent of employees felt they were treated differently by their direct supervisor because of their health condition versus only 39 percent who said the same of working with their HR manager. In addition:

As employers look to do more to boost financial wellness efforts, they may be missing a key way to support employees with disabling health conditions. These employees are often financially stressed, and their condition can often worsen or take longer to recover if not addressed

  • 60 percent of employees who worked with their direct supervisor were afraid of losing their job when reaching out about their health condition.
  • Employees who worked with their HR manager were able to return to work 44 percent faster than those who worked with their direct supervisor.

“Lack of a consistent process for reporting a health condition can result in a negative experience for employees,” Ryu says. “Putting HR managers at the center of the disability process can ensure employees are communicated with effectively and provided with resources to help address their condition.”

Accommodations are key in enabling a faster return to work

When analyzing what led to increased productivity and a shorter leave duration, the survey found that accommodations were key.

  • 93 percent of employees said they could perform their job effectively after receiving support from their employer.
  • Employees who were provided accommodations returned to work more than 30 days sooner than employees who weren’t provided with support, on average.

“A key survey finding was that simple accommodations — which may not cost an employer anything – can be extremely helpful in supporting an employee,” Ryu says. “Recognizing the high number of employees who require disability leave, accommodations can help them return to work quickly and be productive.”




About the Employee Disability Leave Study
The Standard engaged an online survey provider, Qualtrics, to survey a sample of 528 participants in April 2017. Survey participants were between the ages of 21 and 69, were employed full time and had a household income of $50K or more per year. Among those surveyed, 23 percent (121) worked at a company of 10-249 employees, 36 percent (188) worked at a company with 250-2,499 employees and 41 percent (219) worked at a company of 2,500 or more employees.
To qualify for the survey, respondents had to be aware of short- and long-term disability insurance, have experienced a health condition resulting in a disability that prevented them from working or changed the way they were working for at least six to eight weeks and for which they requested and received workplace accommodations in the past year. The survey excluded those who had filed a workers’ compensation claim exclusively as a result of their illness or injury, or took standard maternity leave.
About The Standard
The Standard is a marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc., and subsidiaries. Insurance products are offered by Standard Insurance Company of Portland, Oregon, in all states except New York. Product features and availability vary by state and are solely the responsibility of Standard Insurance Company.