I’ve developed a mantra over the last few years: “It’s not just about the chair.”

As a disability consultant certified in ergonomics, I’m one of the first to help employers realize that employees with chronic pain — or another type of disabling illness or injury — can benefit from workplace accommodations, such as a chair. The chair is an important part of the puzzle to help an employee’s productivity, depending on his or her specific medical condition.

However, when an employee who has back pain also has an underlying condition, such as obesity, diabetes or is a chronic smoker, the chair is just skimming the surface as far as help is concerned. You’re missing the boat in terms of providing an employee the necessary services needed to successfully stay at work or return to work.

The age-old question employers ask me is, “How can I increase utilization of the benefits I’m offering my employees?” Many have health management programs in place, such as employee assistance or disease management programs, and have spent a tremendous amount of money on these services. But, they can’t get their employees to use them.

Also see: "Understanding the connection between accomodations and productivity."

This could be because they don’t have an engagement strategy or even a communications plan beyond putting a note on their company’s intranet site or a hanging a poster in a break room. Many are hoping that their employees remember to proactively reach out to these programs when the need arises.

But what these employers may not know is that their disability carrier — which, most likely, isn’t the carrier sponsoring the EAP or disease management program — can actually help increase use. By working with a disability consultant, employees can get involved in these different employee benefit offerings.

Helping employees find solutions

Some disability carriers offer disability consultants, stationed either on-site at the employer’s location or available remotely when needed, to work with an employee who is experiencing a disabling illness or injury. These consultants can help employees return to work after a disability leave, or get involved early with an employee experiencing a condition that could eventually result in a leave of absence.

These consultants are experts at learning the employee’s situation, job responsibilities and work environment. They’re truly a champion for an employee and a partner for HR. Because of this, a unique relationship develops, as the employee is working with someone who is looking out for their best interests in resuming a normal, productive life. HR managers can benefit from this, too, as they know that the employee is receiving the proper assistance.

Also see: "3 steps to help clients sort out the reasonable accomodation process."

As part of this guidance, disability consultants can help point back to existing programs, such as smoking cessation, weight loss or disease management. Some carriers will reach out to benefits offered through competing carriers, just because it’s the right way to get the employee the help they truly need.

So that employee who received the chair? If he or she worked with a disability consultant and received a referral to the proper health management program to help with their weight and smoking habit, they’re not just receiving the right type of care. They’re hopefully becoming healthier and more productive in the process. And their HR managers? They’re resting easier knowing their employees are getting help to counteract larger issues that could affect their overall productivity, without having to do the heavy lifting.

Kost is the program director for the Workplace Possibilities program from Standard Insurance Company. He has been with The Standard since 2007 and was instrumental in creating the program that exists today. Kost implements and coordinates several on-site programs that allow employees to get back to work more quickly and maintain productivity, and he develops and maintains the metrics that monitor companies’ successes. With more than 30 years of experience, Kost is a results-driven manager with a successful track record of innovative program design in reducing absence, improving return-to-work outcomes and helping employees become more productive. He holds a master’s degree in career and guidance counseling. He also is a certified rehabilitation counselor and ergonomist.

The Standard is a marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. and subsidiaries. Insurance products are offered by Standard Insurance Company of 1100 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, Ore., in all states except New York, where insurance products are offered by The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York of 360 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 210, White Plains, N.Y. Product features and availability vary by state and company, and are solely the responsibility of each subsidiary. Each company is solely responsible for its own financial condition. Standard Insurance Company is licensed to solicit insurance business in all states except New York. The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York is licensed to solicit insurance business in only the state of New York.

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