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Staying Focused on Absence Management and Return to Work

This week’s post is brought to you by Optis’ National Sales Representative, Scott Lenox.

“Where attention goes, energy flows and results show.” -T. Harv Eker

My five year old daughter is at the age of telling her mother and I about how everyone else, her fellow classmates, have been misbehaving and it has been difficult for her to listen to instructions the teacher is sharing. The three notes we received from her teacher last week said otherwise. After asking just a few more questions, her head finally dropped and the truth came out that she has been the one talking a little too much in class when the teacher is speaking. If you have spent an extended period of time with children, I’m sure you’ve encountered a similar situation and can agree how it can be a bit humorous when they are young and learning lessons. However, it would have been much easier for us to have just believed our daughter and directed our focus on the “reported” actions of the other kids in the class.

When I speak with organizations across the nation that are looking for an absence management solution, they tend to put their focus of curbing absence abuse as a top priority, if not the top priority. Employers are correct in that absence abuse is a real issue that does impact productivity, bottom line, and employee morale especially when the team has to pick up the absent employee’s workload. However, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Labor (DOL), less than 2% of covered worksites confirmed misuse of the FMLA, and less than 3% of covered worksites reported suspicion of FMLA misuse. Often the challenges of managing intermittent FMLA, in particular, have caused major headaches for employers. Employers have reported; granting what they consider illegitimate requests for FMLA, accepting imprecise information in medical certifications from medical professionals, and the overall difficulty of tracking compliance of an intermittent FMLA leave event. This raises a few questions -

  • Is curbing employee abuse the correct issue employers should be focusing on overall?
  • Is it possible that the lack of resources the employer is using to manage absences can actually create a false sense of employee abuse or even allow for employee abuse to take place?

So, do these shortcomings lie with the employer or the employee? Similarly, is it my daughter’s fault for not listening in class, her classmates fault, or us, the parent’s fault for wanting to choose sides before having all of the correct information? It’s all about directing your focus in the right place.

Every employee leave event is different from the next and each one can present its own set challenges and frustrations. Sometimes (not always) when abuse is suspected, it can become a personal impediment that demands a lot of energy and focus to resolve or even eliminate. Getting taken up with resolving the abuse of a select few in your organization and not focusing on creating a more comprehensive absence management and return to work (RTW) program that can impact the other 98% of your employees can have its own long lasting negative effects. Don’t let the absence abuse of a small percentage give you tunnel vision of what your overall program can become.

You don’t have to look far to find articles and resources on the importance of Integration, Clear Communication, Tracking, and Measurement when it comes to producing an effective and complete program.

Integration of data can open up a world of answers that have been residing in disparate filing cabinets, systems, excel spreadsheets, and departments. Imagine data that is integrated between HR/Benefits/EAP/Wellness/Safety and a third party. What potential could this data bring to your program? If you are a small company this could be data residing in separate files on one single computer terminal! Integration of data allows for historic data to be viewable and compared. It allows for baselines to be established and ongoing measurements to take place. Integrating your data can even allow comparisons against similar organizations in your space.

Clear Communication and Tracking go hand in hand. It is recommended that you do a complete check to make sure that all of your communications, forms, letters, and policies are all up to date with the Department of Labor. Once this audit has taken place you can now track your absences in a compliant environment and make policy changes as needed. Next, be sure that your policies and procedures for requesting a leave are easily understood by your management team and displayed for your employees to access. Tracking is more than just capturing calendar dates and hire dates, it also includes tracking all communications and correspondence with the many different individuals involved with the entire leave event. Be sure to include, the employee, management, doctors, legal, human resources and benefit individuals in all of your communication tracking inside and outside of your organization.

Finally, Measurement of your program is a must. This allows you to measure if the changes you have implemented are working or still need some adjusting. Ongoing measurement of your absence management program allows you to see if leave frequencies are decreasing, if durations are decreasing, how much leaves are costing your company, if your numbers are matching or beating your established baseline, if the wellness program is taking affect, what improvements need to be made and how can the new policies be measured. This process seems to repeat itself as you strive to become better and continue to build your program. There are several excellent articles and resources that explain the importance of building a comprehensive absence management & RTW programs and the benefits in doing so. Including; “Foundation for Optimal Productivity: The Complete Return to Work Program” created by the DMEC, “Absence Management: What’s Your Game Plan?” written by David Spring and featured on DMEC’s website, and “Return-To-Work Best Practices: Roles, Responsibilities, and Outcomes” written by Marcia Carruthers.

Absence abuse is an issue that every organization must remain vigilant about and address. Don’t let the few abusers dictate the policies and procedures you’re building into your absence management and RTW program, or even worse, let it derail you from building out your absence management and RTW program. Integrating disparate data, building clear, concise, up-to-date communications, investing in tracking tools, and ongoing measurement of your program will allow you to address not only absence abuse, but all of the other concerns that organizations need to be focused on for their absence management and RTW programs to be successful.