By Phil Bruen 

Unplanned absences can take a significant toll on the finances and productivity of a company and its employees. Increasing employee productivity is a primary objective for today’s employers, yet only 45% have return-to-work strategies, according to MetLife’s 12th Annual Employee Benefits Trend Study.

Clearly, many employers are missing valuable opportunities that return-to-work programs can offer. The primary reason may be that they simply don’t understand the benefits of return-to-work programs. Employers need to understand how return-to-work programs can increase productivity, reduce the cost of employee training, reduce overtime, reduce the need for temporary hires, and increase employee morale and engagement. In addition, providing workplace accommodations for disabled employees helps employers meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A recent case study reveals how a return-to-work program can improve short-term disability incidence rates and durations. In the first 12 months, lower short-term disability rates helped the employer save more than $1.4 million in lost work days. The employer also saw a 25% improvement in eligible claims for post illness injury management.

Collaboration to Drive Results 

The key to a safe and successful return-to-work program is the partnership between the insurance provider’s return-to-work coordinator and the employer’s benefit team. A close collaboration drives greater understanding of the company’s needs. The case study featured an enhanced reporting package that integrated worker’s compensation and disability claims. The team reviewed the results to identify how the employer could benefit most from a return-to-work program based on reported claim durations and the status of employees who returned to work without restrictions. Site visits were done to review the actual the case results and determine which claim scenarios could benefit from earlier or better return-to-work strategies.

A return-to-work coordinator can offer continued monitoring of the current cases at each location in order to track the status of return-to-work efforts and identify opportunities for improvement. In this case, the partnership led to an enhanced effort to find cases that could benefit from a health intervention, highlighting health services the employee could use that to increase their chances of safely returning to work sooner.

Employee Productivity, Engagement, Morale 

Return-to-work programs not only benefit the employer, but they also benefit the employee by boosting employee morale and, in turn, productivity and engagement. The odds of returning to a full employment after being on disability leave drops to 50-50 after six months. Yet injured employees who participate in a return-to-work program come back to work 1.4 times sooner than do those who don’t have a return-to-work program, according to a Rand study.

The Key Elements

A successful return-to-work program requires dedication from all areas of the company – from managers who develop and implement the program to employees who are committed to following all of the program guidelines. In the case study, the employer’s dedication to the program carried through to all levels of the organization. The return-to-work coordinator and the employer focused on integrating and leveraging data to identify challenges and increase the utilization of return-to-work services. The employer’s internal medical director and case manager helped build a stronger team and improved communication to drive awareness and utilization of the return-to-work program.

Education enabled employees to understand the importance of return-to-work programs and disability insurance in general. Commitment from the management and everyone at the company ensured participation and a strong outcome. Implementing all of these key elements can help mitigate the losses incurred when employees are out on disability, offering financial savings and increased productivity for employers and a quicker path to returning to work for employees.


Phil Bruen is vice president of Products at MetLife