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Integrating work disability management into strategic plans improves morale and the corporate bottom line

At a glance:
As a reflection of the company, disability
A condition or function that leaves a person unable to do tasks that most other people can do.
 management should be recognised, and form a part of a company's strategic plan.  Disability management is a solid and cost-effective way of improving corporate culture and productivity, whilst attaining the best results for the employee.
A positive partnership improves outcomes.  This study encourages employers to take a strategic approach to the management of work disability.  Incorporating return to work management into strategic plans and treating employees well, improves the company's bottom-line.
Disability management reflects the overall quality of management at a company.  When the organisation treats people well, the company is seen to be interested in not only the individual, but also corporate and community well-being.

Integrating disability management throughout the company, with all levels of staff involved in understanding the process and their roles in it, together with the backing of appropriate policies and procedures indicates management's commitment to best practice. Integrated work disability planning and management improves morale and the bottom line.
How a company deals with return to work generally reflects the company's broad approach.  Feedback to senior management can assist, provided it is based on an adequate understanding of the company's approach and is therefore a credible source of information.
Providing companies with a solid foundation for disability management can improve the insurer's outcomes.  Whilst individual case management is important, a greater success is achieved when a company's broad approach and culture reflects an overall company commitment to the disability management process.  

Invite senior managers to presentations and case review meetings, provide reports that can influence the overall company, and encourage training of relevant staff, such as supervisors and senior managers.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
Curtis J, Scott LR.  

Integrating disability management into strategic plans: creating healthy organizations. AAOHN Journal 2004;52(7):298-301.
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
This paper provides an overview of initiatives that integrate return to work management into the company's everyday functioning.

The review is based on a combination of researched literature, and the authors' strategic model.  The cost of people off work relates not only to direct costs, such as wages, WorkCover premiums, and medical costs.  The impact on the organisation is through loss of staff, turnover, reduced productivity, and impact on the company's product, or relationships with customers.

The smaller the organisation the larger the impact on staff turnover, and the increased likelihood of impact on customers.
Study Findings:
The study breaks down the review into sections, including the employee, strategic planning, claim initiation and management, returned to work, and analysis of the program and its results.

The employee:

A number of business studies have demonstrated that companies that demonstrate care for their staff are companies that are more financially successful and have lower staff turnover.

The author points out that work is central to an individual's life. When employees become ill or injured they have reduced productivity levels, or may be unavailable for work.  This can be exacerbated if the employee is treated poorly or ignored during the illness or injury.  The employee may feel the company's employment promises have been forgotten.

Employees who have positive experiences with their employer remain engaged, and more likely to be productive, provide customer care, and contribute to the organisation.

How an employee feels they are treated if they have an injury will influence how they portray their company in the community.  An employers' reputation and corporate image can arise from how they care for their staff.

Disability management and the strategic plan:

The hallmarks of a healthy organisation are:

         Employees who are engaged and productive
         Customers who are loyal and satisfied
         Financial profitability

The author says that employee engagement is important enough for the company to develop a strategic plan for disability management.

Disability management has been shown to result in 10% to 50% savings in the costs associated with time off work.  Senior management involvement is necessary for any disability management program, and must be incorporated into strategic planning.

Information needed by senior managers includes:

         Costs of time off work and work disability
         The benefits of a positive program
         A cost benefit analysis
         The ability to have regular reviews of the program

Elements of the strategic plan included:

         Establishing policies and procedures to ensure the strategic goal is executed
         Standard operating guidelines
         Champions of the program
         Program elements of early intervention,
A treatment or management program. Interventions often combine several approaches. In this field approaches include training in problem solving, adaptation of work duties, graded activity, an exercise and stretching program and pain relief.
 claims initiation and management, a return to work, and measuring of results.

Claim initiation and management:

Intervention undertaken early in the case is associated with improved results.

Absences exceeding three to five days need proactive management. Maintaining work connection is a key factor in reducing lost time.  Even casual contact with the employee has been shown to reduce time off work by 30%. 

Supporting the individual to get appropriate medical care, and avoid delays.  They may need someone to advocate on their behalf, if they are in difficult circumstances.

Return to work:

A return to work model should be articulated and clear to all members of the company.  Effective programs require clear goals, available modified and meaningful duties, and a co-ordinated approach with treating practitioners.

Targets are best set before the program is initiated, and a review of results conducted annually by senior management.
Integrating disability management into the company's strategic plan is a solid and cost-effective way of improving the corporate culture and productivity, reducing staff turnover, and improving the company's profitability.

With senior staff involvement the process becomes part of company culture and return to work is improved.
PubMed Abstract
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