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Extended absences put small, mid-size companies at risk

Source: http://eba.benefitnews.com
By Tristan Lejeune

Disability insurance experts with the Guardian Life Insurance Company are in the final stages of developing an index for measuring and predicting the success of companies’ absence management programs in conjunction with their short-term and long-term disability. Guardian’s Andrew Hutchison, assistant vice president of group life and disability products, and Judy Buczek, manager of group disability products, are taking the opportunity to encourage small and mid-size employers who haven’t yet implemented absence management to do so.

“Absence management is not new, but it’s really kind of a large-case concept,” Buczek says. “Larger employers understand the importance of managing absenteeism, but it’s just as important for mid-size and smaller employers. And actually, they’re usually the folks who don’t have access to the type of tools they need to manage a program. … We’re trying to help employers recognize the need for absence management programs, and also to help bring some of those programs downstream to the smaller employers.”

Hutchison recommends that every company explore their absence management options, especially those without enough human resources personnel to dedicate exclusively to the cause. “To outsource” a coordinated, umbrella approach to reining in absenteeism and long-term disability, he says, may seem like a big expense, but it “really becomes a cost-saving measure, and it takes away a lot of the worry.” Small companies, he says, are particularly vulnerable to extended absences.

“These days, everyone is asked to do two jobs,” Hutchison says. “So having a person out, really, really has an impact on the organization today. Getting people back to work sooner … really does impact the bottom line.”

To that end, Buczek says, Guardian is planning a spring release for its Absence Management Activity Index Report and Tool.

“It’s an employer tool that they can use to find out the effectiveness of what they have in place,” she says. “We’ve done some research on our existing plan holders, both large and small, and we’ve looked at what type of programs they have in place, from wellness to a seamless FMLA program to an STD/LTD program and we said, ‘OK, what programs work the best and what are most effective at managing absences?’ It’s geared toward making sure that the appropriate tools are put in place.”