Working with a mental or physical health condition is not easy, especially when the employee isn’t sure whom to approach or how to talk with an employer about his or her situation. Whether it’s a fear of being labeled in the workplace or a lack of understanding of what resources are available, these concerns may be more common than clients realize.

Employers that take a comprehensive approach to disability management can help get employees back to work sooner and help employees feel more productive when they return to work, a recent survey conducted by Standard Insurance Company found.

The following three survey findings can help clients assess their current disability management process and determine if their approach is meeting the needs of their workforce:

1) Employees are going to various people for assistance. When employees with health conditions were asked who they went to for assistance, 38% went to their HR manager, another 38% went to their direct supervisor, and 19% engaged both their HR manager and direct supervisor.

If employees are receiving help and guidance from different workplace leaders, their experiences can vary greatly. And, this difference in experience can hinder an employee’s timeline for returning to work or affect his or her overall feelings about the employer.

How advisers can help: Assist clients in implementing a consistent process for identifying and supporting employees in need of assistance. This process should be communicated across an organization to ensure employees are receiving the same resources and assistance regardless of whom they reach out to for help.

2) HR managers provided a better overall experience than supervisors. Employees who worked with HR managers returned to work 44% faster than employees who worked with their direct supervisors. Overall, based on survey responses, it seems HR managers were better at communicating with an employee who was out on leave than direct supervisors, and also had a higher rate of providing employees with connections to other workplace resources.

HR managers typically handle more health-related employee cases than direct supervisors, so they often know more about an employer’s disability carrier and the resources available to provide an employee with support. This level of support and care from HR managers is important, but to ensure consistent experiences for employees, direct supervisors also should be well-versed on available resources and trained on how to assist an employee.

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How advisers can help: Remind clients that their disability carriers can help facilitate manager training, which includes how to identify an employee in need, ways to initiate health-related conversations and when to appropriately communicate with an employee during leave.

3) Accommodations can be instrumental in helping an employee’s productivity. Workplace accommodations can have a large impact on employees — the most helpful of which can be fairly straightforward and cost-effective. For example, 61% of employees surveyed were given flexibility to attend doctors’ appointments, 58% were allowed to work a modified schedule, and 40% received workstation modifications. After receiving accommodations, 93% of employees felt they could perform their job more effectively.

How advisers can help: Reassure clients that developing an accommodations plan does not have to fall on their shoulders, nor does it have to be costly. Clients can work with a disability carrier to create a tailored plan to meet each employee’s unique needs.

Use these findings to help clients evaluate whether they’re fostering a consistent and comprehensive approach to disability management. The support an employee receives in the workplace can be the fuel needed to help them stay at work and avoid a disability leave, or get back to work quickly after taking a leave.

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Tom Foran

Tom Foran

Foran is the vice president of underwriting and product development for Standard Insurance Company and has worked in the insurance industry for more than 30 years.