Research Shows Impact of Early Return Work to Programs

Research shows that early return to work programs can boost disability management savings by reducing short-term disability duration and the incidence of long-term disability absences.

CORE Inc., a provider of employee absence management, has released research showing that early return to work programs -- programs that allow employees to return to work from a disability absence earlier than anticipated by providing modified job duties or part-time schedules -- can boost disability management savings by reducing short-term disability duration and the incidence of long-term disability absences.

In fact, employers with aggressive early return to work programs can reduce average disability duration by almost 20 percent.

"As one of the first studies to look at the non-occupational side of early return to work, this research quantifies and confirms what we have heard anecdotally -- that early return to work programs can save employers days lost due to both non-occupational and occupational injuries and illnesses," said Rebecca Auerbach, CORE's vice president of research. "Early return to work programs traditionally have not been a focus in the non-occupational areas of disability management, but the results of our research show they should be."

CORE analyzed client data from its own absence data warehouse, COREbase, which contains over 1 million clinical absence records.

Employers studied range from 2,000 employees to more than 50,000 employees.

The research focuses on quantifying the impact of early return to work programs on the outcomes of disability management programs and the workplace.

The two main elements of early return to work studied were modified duty (the

temporary modification of the employee's work environment or job requirements) and part-time duty (returning to the job on a part-time basis).

The research found that:

  • 11 percent of disability absences returned to work on modified duty.
  • 6 percent of disability absences returned to work on part-time duty.
  • Employers with less intensive early return to work programs save an average of 5 percent in lost days, while those with more aggressive programs save almost 20 percent in lost days.
  • The incidence of long-term disability was 14 percent lower due to an early return to work.
  • Employers with early return to work programs vary widely in size, industry and type of disability management program.

CORE also polled 50 human resources and benefits professionals on the same topic at the Annual Disability Management Employers Coalition National Conference in Seattle last month.

The respondents represent more than 15 different industries including insurance and finance, health care, government and public agencies, utilities, retail, manufacturing and communications.

Company size ranges from 300 to 900,000 employees, with an average size of 24,000 employees.

Highlights of the survey results follow:

  • 100 percent of respondents think early return to work programs benefit employees.
  • 93 percent say that their companies encourage early return to work.
  • Those companies that encourage early return to work employ a number of methods, including: modified job duties (82 percent), part-time or modified hours (77 percent), and special equipment or other ergonomic changes (62 percent).
  • 95 percent believe that early return to work programs reduce lost time costs for the employer.

"The results of the survey show the overwhelming consensus that early return to work programs benefit employees, which supports our quantitative research," said Auerbach. "This further proves that early return to work is an area employers should investigate as a way of improving productivity in the workplace."

Edited by Virginia Foran

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