REturn to Work Strategies
Disability Management Program
6 strategies you need to make your disability management program a success.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once said:

"Strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell."

You may be a busy employer, HR professional or finance executive and already know the importance of strategy.

You probably also know the importance of implementing like hell.

But what you may not yet know is just how a solid Disability Management Program fits into your strategy.

Whatever the strategic goal is: greater profitability, more market-share, increased sales, customer retention, exceptional service, or some other. Most of the time finding your way there means hiring, engaging and motivating the right employees.

Employees who are present, healthy and doing a good job make an enormous difference to success, morale and the bottom line.

Unfortunately though accidents, illness and disability happen even to the best of employees. When they do, the time away from work that follows is often prolonged, unproductive and unhealthy.


Research by the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR) shows the longer an employee is away from work, the lower their chance is of returning. This can be detrimental to both the worker's well-being and their value to the employer.

"For many people, work, a job, a profession or a trade, provides an important source of personal identity," says Tom Fryers, a Professor of Public Mental Health. "For some it may be the only significant source. Even for those for whom this is minimal, being a worker is important for the other benefits work mediates."

Whether employees love their job for the work itself, or because it affords the lifestyle they want outside of work, it is often a significant part of a person's life and identity.

How the right Disability Management Program Helps

Disability Management programs focus on ensuring employees are able to take part in all the benefits that work provides.

The disability management field has evolved over the past decade and study into what works is always ongoing. Over this time though some very effective best practices have emerged.

The key components of a successful program include:

1. Senior support

One of the foundations of a solid disability management program is getting senior support on side.

There are many reasons to get executives interested in disability management. Recent data shows that disability costs the average Canadian business an estimated 12% of payroll per year. These reports also show that employers with absence costs exceeding 10% of payroll have more than doubled since 2011. This can be significant for profitability and the company's bottom line.

It is also important in a unionized environment to have senior union support for the initiatives. The human cost of disability is high and forging these partnerships makes the program's intent and fairness clear from the beginning.

2. Early Identification.

Disability management programs begin with early identification of disabled workers. Also crucial is the identification of potential conditions that can result in worker disability:

"On average, employees receiving early intervention returned to work 20% faster than expected, or 2.7 weeks sooner, than their expected return to work date." Martin (2001)

The sooner symptoms get recognised and correctly identified, the sooner the right strategies are set in place. Early intervention is proactive and quickly identifies the claims needing special handling for early resolution.

3. Evaluation of medical, psychosocial and return to work needs.

Claims should be examined from a medical / psychosocial point of view and look at what the requirements are for returning to work.

During the evaluation there are three main types of disability groups:


The first is short duration claim where the patient has a well-defined acute episode (i.e. flu). These cases will return to work regardless of intervention.


The second group represents patients with acute or progressive diseases or injuries. This population often needs help to ensure the primary interventions are enough to progress back to health. Often the challenge is finding a way through the health care maze to the right provider. One who can lower waiting times and resolve their medical or psychosocial issues. It is important to keep this group focused on the return to work goal.


The third group are those with terminal or debilitating diseases, such as cancers or Multiple Sclerosis. These may eventually prevent a return to work. The primary needs are ensuring these people are familiar with the range of services available in their community. There should also be ongoing discussions on their level of ability.

4. Ability Management

In all three groups, there are essential best practices to bear in mind.

Focus on what the person can do, not the cure. Disability can limit a person capabilities due to illness, injury or a condition. Effective management, rather than eliminating symptoms, discusses what the employee is able to do.

Symptoms such as pain are not disability, they are symptoms. Often staying at home and focusing on the pain makes the situation worse. Work provides many people with friends, support networks, goals, meaning and distraction from ruminating.

Focus on ability is the goal, compassionate but firm. It is important, in working together, that you empathize with the conflicting feelings of pain versus disability. Through gradual transition back to work, symptoms will decrease as the tolerance for activity or interaction increases.

5. Return to Work

Return to work should always be the primary goal.

This should happen from the first interaction with an employee, physician, manager, or union representative. All parties should be aware that any treatment, medication, protocol or intervention aims to return the employee back to work as soon as possible. Encourage health care providers to set up tentative return to work dates.

Discussing the appropriate treatment duration also helps.

For example, take an employee with a back injury. A few days bed rest, active physiotherapy, rapid reactivation, and return to normal activity levels could be the best strategy for that person.

It is also necessary to emphasize that returning to work is not about waiting for the absence of pain. What the employee is able to do, not pain, is the benchmark.

Reasonable job accommodations or transitional jobs are a necessary part of return to work.

An effective return to work program often includes a phase in which the employee returns for specified periods and specific tasks. The intent should always be a return to a regular position. This could be either the pre-disability position – or another suited to the employee's skills, capabilities and knowledge.

6. Measurement of the results

An effective disability management program needs to have a way to measure its outcomes.

Comparison of data from one period to the next is critical to measure the effectiveness of a particular intervention.

When the goals set for the system are measurable it helps to determine their effectiveness. In the end you are able to say, "what was it before and how are we doing now."

As well as gathering the data, there is the need to communicate the results and use them to drive prevention programs.

When you get all parties involved to embrace the broader view of disability management it takes care of your business.

How we can help.

Organizational Solutions Inc. (OSI) is a premier Canadian provider of Disability Management, Workers Compensation Claims Management and Return to Work Programs. We provide "the RIGHT care, at the RIGHT time, for the RIGHT outcome ©" when assisting employees with occupational or non-occupational illness and injury.

Our best practice results come from the expertise and qualifications of the right team assigned to the unique challenges of our clients. The people with the knowledge and first-hand experience of what works.

We put an exceptional team on your side. The proven success of our unique methods has seen us grow into a leading Disability Management provider. Recently OSI ranked on Canadian Business Magazine's Profit 500 list of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies.

We have clients of all sizes: from the largest employers to many medium and small businesses. We provide the highest level of professional knowledge and expertise to every single one of our valued clients.

Having OSI as a provider comes with price options your business can afford with our services providing a significant return on investment.

When you engage OSI as a partner your employees will have access to highly experienced health care professionals and specialists. These qualified specialists take pride in knowing and implementing the most successful disability management practices and strategies. Our team aim to find the right solutions (even in the most difficult and complex of cases) and work to get the best outcome for every claim.

For more information use the contact form on this page or call or email our sales team to find out more information on any of our services. T:1-866-674-7656 | E:

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