Employers look to wellness programs to combat absenteeism

For employers battling absenteeism or looking to reinvent current policies, creating a solid philosophy which includes robust return-to-work and employee wellness programs will be vital in increasing attendance.

Employers increasingly are saying they can better overcome obstacles to absence management efforts experienced in the past due to more resources and third-party expertise available in the marketplace, according to a recent study from Guardian.

“It’s imperative for companies to understand the importance of employee absences and how they can significantly compromise workplace productivity and diminish the bottom line,” said Mike Estep, head of group life, disability, and supplemental health product development at Guardian. “Employers of any size can no longer afford to view absence management as optional.”

A little more than half of those employers surveyed have reported still finding challenges in applying Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act regulations, a decrease from 60% in 2012.

Also see: Unplanned absences equal costly employee productivity losses

While many have made strides in enhancing their absence management efforts, there is still a long way to go. But, Guardian says, there are four steps employers should take to create a successful absence management program. The first, setting the philosophy, is integral in returning employees to work while encouraging health and wellness.

“Given the availability of resources, it is easier than ever to start or improve an existing absence management program and manage it effectively to achieve success,” Estep adds.

According to the study, using a phased approach is important, especially among the most advanced employers. Such an approach, Guardian notes, tends to be especially effective in larger companies.

The report notes that more than half of the employers surveyed, 54%, have admitted to having challenges ensuring employees are able to perform their essential duties before returning employees to work.

And wellness programs will also play a key role alongside the return-to-work programs. According to Guardian, many of the highly advanced employers place nearly equal importance on supporting return to work as encouraging overall employee health and wellness.

Also see: Why businesses should invest in community health

“By focusing on creating a healthy and productive culture, companies can help set a path for long-term success,” Guardian adds.

In addition to instituting a strong philosophy and providing wellness programs, other steps to creating a successful absence management program, according to Guardian, include:

  • Taking key foundational steps – getting buy-in from senior management and following a strategic communications campaign are essential.
  • Developing an effective model – using the same outside resource for short-term disability and FMLA administration, and making health management referrals are key predictors of success.
  • Carefully measuring success – nearly half (48%) of all employers reported employee engagement to be the most critical measure of success.


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