Disability claims of all kinds rose – some sharply – during the Great Recession.
With today’s still-recovering economy, workers are continuing to feel high levels of stress, and this can have a direct impact on an employer’s bottom line, leading to even more disability claims.
Employers are still operating on leaner budgets, which means many employees are taking on heavier workloads and working longer hours.
For some employees, the stress can impact their health in a variety of ways, said Alex Dumont, assistant vice president of product marketing at The Standard.
“Stress can lead to potentially disabling conditions that would include an exacerbation of mental nervous conditions ranging from anxiety to depression,” Dumont said. “It can also negatively impact a host of physical conditions, including heart, gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal problems, and it also impacts repetitive stress disorders, like carpal tunnel syndrome.”
From 2005 to 2010, Social Security disability data reveals that musculoskeletal claims increased by about 47 percent, while mental nervous claims went up 10 percent, and nervous system and respiratory claims jumped 26 and 20 percent, respectively.
Much of this growth is attributed to higher workloads and stress in the workplace.
If an employer does not confront this issue in the beginning, it could cost the company even more when an employee on disability does not return to work in a timely fashion, said Kristin Tugman, senior director of health and productivity at Unum.
Workplaces that continue to exhibit environments with extreme stress have a hard time encouraging employees on disability to return to the place that caused the problem in the first place, and it is important that employers find ways to help employees cope.
“For example, if your back hurts and you feel like you will go back into an extremely demanding, stressful, unforgiving situation, then the back pain will continue to feel unmanageable,” Tugman said.
Early intervention starts with open communication between the manager and employee before disability coverage even begins, Tugman said, and the most effective conversation should explore the possibilities for job modifications. By outlining what the employee needs on the job, it makes for a clear return-to-work program.
“All of the parameters of the program should be determined based on business need and manager comfort level,” Tugman said. “As a result, employers can work proactively and recognize the point at which someone has recovered enough that they can return within the specified modifications but also know they will be back to work within the specified timeframe – between two and four weeks.”
As part of a return-to-work program coupled with early intervention, Dumont suggests having onsite consultants. Many human resources professionals do not have the time or resources to deal with some of these disabling issues, but an onsite consultant can help employees connect with employee assistance programs and health advocates to find a solution. Even when a problem begins to arise with an employee, the onsite consultant can identify the issue early and intervene as appropriate.
“Engaging in a return-to-work program helps match the resources of the employer to the employee to help people come back into the work force, which is beneficial on a variety of levels,” Dumont said. “From containing costs and helping an employee feel productive and return to their lives, return-to-work programs have a lot of advantages.”