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March 15, 2002
More Pressure to Control Absences
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challenges of a volatile economy are likely to put employers' absence-management and return-to-work programs to the test, according to the consulting firm Watson Wyatt and the Washington Business Group on Health.

Political uncertainties around the world, combined with worker layoffs, hiring freezes, and an unprecedented increase in behavioral health claims and stress-related disorders, are challenging employers to maintain productivity levels with fewer resources, the two organizations report.

"The combination of September 11th and increased layoffs will heighten the importance of enhancing current health and productivity efforts among employers in support of their remaining employees," says Veronica Hellwig, a senior health and productivity consultant with Watson Wyatt.

The organizations' "Staying@Work" survey describes the current state of absence management and documents a continuing trend toward the greater use of the Internet and Web-based tools to manage disability and absence management programs.

About one-third (34 percent) of respondents anticipate a move away from paper-based absence reporting to Internet-based technologies within the next two years.

The survey suggests growing interest among employers in self-service HR portals that provide a single point of contact for employees to access their benefits, obtain policy information, and report absences. Hence, employers may begin to integrate disease and absence management into seamless, "employee-driven" systems.

"Already, some employers are providing hyperlinks from their benefit intranets to other web sites, such as job accommodation or online interactive health and lifestyle connections, so employees can co-manage their disabilities and return to work as soon as possible," Hellwig said. "For example, if an employee has diabetes, the site provides information about what services are compensated during disability, processes disability claims, and links to vendors that provide information to help the employee co-manage the condition."

A total of 80 employers with 1.5 million full-time employees participated in the survey, which explored the prevalence and effectiveness of various techniques that employers use to manage and coordinate disability and sick-leave programs.

Watson Wyatt is a global consulting firm specializing in human capital and financial management. The Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH) is a nonprofit organization that helps large employers find solutions to health-care problems.
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