Productivity levels are at risk of dropping as Australian businesses fail to implement rehabilitation programs, a paper from life insurer AIA Australia and SuperFriend has found.
According to the paper, A Crucial Equation: Balancing Australian worker health and company health, employees have a 70% chance of returning to work after taking 20 days off. This drops to 50% after 45 days, and 35% after 70.
In addition to the long-term damage to the Australian workforce as a whole, employers are also more closely affected by the issue. The insurance industry currently pays out more than $160 million a year in mental illness and disability claims.
“Many businesses accept that when an employee is sick they should be encouraged to take time off, but what many firms don’t know is that returning to work can be just as important in the recovery process from mental illness,” Margo Lydon, CEO of SuperFriend, said.
Employers should attempt rehabilitation as early as possible with employees – keeping in regular contact, and encouraging and facilitating a partial return to work if the employee is able. Damien Mu, general manager of life insurance at AIA Australia, stated that these early intervention initiatives increase the number of employees returning to work.
“Having a workplace support network in place is extremely important for the recovery process, and enhances the chances that an employee will return to work full time,” Mu said.
The early intervention method is endorsed heavily by health consulting firm Injury Treatment. “Our experience has shown that the earlier organisations identify and respond to injuries, the greater chance of an accurate diagnosis, correct treatment, focused workplace planning and faster return to work results for injured or ill employees,” Brooke Taylor, founder and executive general manager of Injury Treatment, stated. “For companies to benefit from the model, a cultural shift may need to occur towards the promotion of rapid and open communication around health and safety reporting.”
Taylor said the primary barrier employers face in implementing early intervention systems is the lack of clarity with internal and external stakeholders regarding responsibilities. KPIs are linked to lost time only, when they should incorporate results regarding the speed of reporting, intervention, claim durations and return to work.
Despite the issue being identified and moves by many organisations to remedy it, Mu stated there is still work to be done. “We haven’t finished this journey and are still looking for ways to drive better outcomes for all involved. The opportunity exists for our superfund partners and Australian companies to play a leading role in helping employees get back to work following illness or injury.”