According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, every week, over 500,000 Canadians won't go to work because of mental illness. The cost to the Canadian economy tops $51 billion per year. This statistic doesn't factor in all the other absences resulting in disability claims.
Even when an employee attempts to come back into the workplace there can be complications related to duty to accommodate and ensuring a safe return to work.
To mitigate risk and ensure successful return to work scenarios, considerations for employers include --
Build strategic return to work plans. If an employee was off work due to a mental nervous disorder, should he be reintroduced on a graduated basis even if his attending physician has signed off on a 'without restriction' basis? Increasingly, cases of disability relapses are occurring. Employees who return too quickly without a suitable ramp up time get caught in job stress creating a stimulus of anxiety which results in the reinstatement of their disability claim or a net new one. No matter the type of disability claim, when an employer takes a strategic approach to reintroducing the employee into the workplace, the greater the likelihood that relapse incidences won't occur within days or weeks.
Engage the employee in the return to work plan. Thinking about coming back to work after two weeks vacation can cause any employee anxiety. When an employee has been away from work due to a disability, his stress at the thought of returning may be crippling. Reaching out to the employee and involving him in the plan (along with his claims adjudicator) is a way to build awareness and confidence in the success of the return to work plan. Focusing on the duties he enjoys most and can tackle with greatest ease will reduce the challenges he may believe are ahead of him.
Help supervisors and managers understand their role. Helpful resources are often very close at hand. Many service providers offer front line supervisor training to help them understand their role in the employee's return to work plan. Specialized training is available especially for employees off work due to mental nervous disorders. When an employee feels that his supervisor cares, is confident in how to help him navigate the return to work, and feels supported regarding other workplace stressors, the more willing he will be to attempt a successful return. In addition, the fewer unintentional mistakes the supervisor will make because he is equipped and confident about his role in the plan.
Ensure all the key stakeholders have appropriate resources. To support employee success, there are extensive workplace strategies for mental health and other disability-related claims. One helpful resource is called Supporting Employee Success, which was launched in June 2013. This tool includes a planning process checklist for the employer and the health care professional. It helps them clearly identify return-to-work expectations and what success in the plan looks like. Making sure supervisors and primary Human Resources contacts have access to resources of this nature will better equip them to understand their responsibility in the return to work scenario.
Building a return to work strategy and developing a culture that supports healthy workplaces requires time, effort and planning. For more information regarding ways we can support you, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.