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Majority of Companies Struggle to Manage Employee Absence

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When it comes to managing employee absence and disability, most companies are more confident in their ability to handle those issues than their actual practices suggest. According to a newly released study by The Standard, that gap can hurt employee retention and productivity in the long run.

Conducted last April by Versta Research, the Absence and Disability Readiness Index surveyed 501 human resources managers about how they manage employees' absence and disability needs. Versta Research made efforts to ensure that a wide range of business sizes were represented in the study, from companies with 25-99 employees to corporations with more than 5,000 workers.

Even though respondents received an average score of B- overall because of how confident they were in their employee absence and disability management capabilities, the study showed that 60 percent of respondents earned a C, D, or F for their actual practices. [Related: Employees Coming to Work Sick Costs Businesses]

Dan McMillan, vice president of employee benefits at The Standard, said that gap could spell trouble for companies looking to stay competitive.

"The impact of poor disability management could be damaging for organizations seeking to retain high-quality employees in a competitive job market," he said. "Poor absence and disability programs can lead to lost employee productivity, a greater need for robust recruitment efforts and legal complications due to mismanaging accommodations requests – all of which prevent employers from carrying out their vision."

Employers generally find three key issues as their main stumbling blocks when it comes to employee absence and disability: program measurement, legal compliance and accommodations support. [Related: Americans with Disability Act Regulations That May Surprise You]

According to the study, just 39 percent of respondents with formal employee absence programs and 36 percent with formal employee disability programs measure their effectiveness. Officials also found that only 31 percent and 33 percent benchmark their respective programs.

When it comes to ensuring their programs are on the legal up-and-up, the survey found that most employers worry they're not making the right decisions. Of the survey's respondents, 68 percent said they needed help keeping up with absence management laws, and 63 percent said they needed help with disability management regulations.

Keeping up with industry best practices also causes some consternation for employers, as 59 percent said they found it difficult to do so for both absence and disability management. The survey also found that more than half of all respondents needed help knowing when it was legal to fire an employee for being away from work too much. Approximately 61 percent of respondents said that, with so many laws and guidelines on the books regarding employee absence and disability, they found it hard to know which ones apply to their specific situations.

The study also found that more than half of respondents didn't have a formal process for return-to-work and stay-at-work programs.

While the study focused on the problem areas that employers reported, it also investigated what they do right.

Of the employers who reported having formal employee absence programs in place, 46 percent said they saw less absenteeism, 42 percent saw better employee retention, 38 percent saw improved workplace morale, and 32 percent said they noticed an increase in productivity.

Employers with formal employee disability programs saw similar figures: 32 percent reported less absenteeism, 37 percent saw better employee retention, 34 percent saw improved workplace morale, and 31 percent said they noticed an increase in productivity.

Approximately 92 percent of respondents said both programs helped control costs and reduce risks for their companies.

"Our findings show that employers with comprehensive disability programs are seeing profound benefits in terms of employee retention and overall productivity," McMillan said. "Introducing a disability approach that includes return-to-work and stay-at-work support is essential for employers who want to ensure the health and well-being of their workforce – both of which are crucial for employers who want to face today's talent challenges head-on."

Andrew Martins

I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.