Shrinking the Talent Gap: Supporting Your Biggest Asset

These days, you can’t open a newspaper or read an article online without hearing about the current talent shortage. In 2017, the unemployment rate hit a 17-year low of 4.1% in the fourth quarter. While this is good news for jobseekers, it has created big challenges for businesses that are trying to attract new talent. A recent report shows that 67% of companies are having trouble finding the people and skill sets needed to fill positions.


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To combat this nationwide problem, organizations are looking to their employee benefits plans to help with recruitment and retention efforts, including increasing vacation time, providing enhanced parental leave policies, and investing in trendy workspaces to recruit new employees. These perks and incentives are attractive, but some employers are missing an important piece of the talent puzzle. Recruitment and retention efforts shouldn’t just focus on attracting young, tech-savvy talent, there also should be a heightened focus on retaining their current workforce and keeping them healthy and productive at work.
This is especially important when it comes to retaining employees who develop potentially disabling health conditions. Organizations that overlook the advantages of providing accommodations and additional resources to support current employees with health conditions and help them stay comfortably at work could be letting money and knowledge slip away. Not only are they well-versed in the company processes or knowledgeable about the industry, the cost of onboarding new employees can be expensive. Research shows, the average cost-per-hire is $4,129.
As organizations think about their profitability and the best approach to keep their workforce productive, a factor often missing from the equation is a comprehensive disability management program. Comprehensive disability management programs can help ensure employees with health conditions are being connected to available resources, communicated to when they’re out on disability leave and provided stay-at-work and return-to-work support.
When I stress this point with HR professionals, here are some of the frequently asked questions I receive about the benefits of a comprehensive disability management program and ways it can better support their workforce.

What Health Conditions Are Most Common in the Workforce?

Employees typically experience a wide range of health conditions—both chronic and nonchronic. A recent survey conducted by The Standard found 47% of employees suffer from chronic conditions and 53% experience nonchronic conditions. Chronic conditions could be related to ailments such as back or neck issues, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and carpal tunnel, while nonchronic conditions could be related to an unexpected injury, surgery, or a medical event.
Regardless of the type of health condition, ill or injured employees can result in higher rates of absenteeism or presenteeism—the phenomenon of employees working but not at their full potential. This can add up to missed deadlines, lower output, and general lost productivity, which can have major effects on an organization’s bottom line.

How Can Disability Programs Help Address Employees’ Needs with Overall Productivity?

Some carriers can deploy a disability management expert, such as a nurse, mental health, or vocational consultant, to work directly with HR managers to help identify employees who may need assistance. These consultants can help develop stay-at-work or return-to-work plans that are customized to meet an individual’s needs, aligned with an organization’s existing policies and in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) requirements.
In part 2 of this article, we’ll talk more about specific types of accommodations that can help keep employees comfortable at work or allow them to return to work faster.

What Can Disability Programs Do to Help Connect Employees with the Right Support?

No two employee situations or conditions are the same. That’s why ongoing communication and an understanding of available resources is essential to help ensure each employee receives support for his or her specific needs. Many disability carriers can serve as the connection point, working in tandem with an organization’s other employee benefits resources—including wellness, employee assistance, and disease management programs—to determine the best options for an employee with a health condition.
Our research found that 77% of employees helped by disability carriers received workplace resources to accommodate their needs. In addition, we found that employees with chronic conditions who were connected to these workplace resources experienced 16 fewer days of disability leave, on average. The faster your most valuable assets are connected to resources, the faster and more productive they can be when they return to work.
As the fight for top talent continues, don’t forget how a comprehensive disability management program can play a key role in keeping your current workforce comfortable and healthy. Part two of this article will discuss what types of accommodations are available to help employees with health conditions and how disability carriers can help with this process.

Brian Kost is the Senior Director for The Standard’s Workplace Possibilities program. He’s been with The Standard since 2007 and was instrumental in creating the program that exists today. Kost implements and coordinates several on-site programs that allow employees to get back to work more quickly and maintain productivity, and he develops and maintains the metrics that monitor companies’ success. With more than 30 years of experience, he is a results-driven manager with a successful track record of innovative program design in reducing absence, improving return-to-work outcomes, and helping employees become more productive. He holds a master’s degree in career and guidance counseling. He also is a certified rehabilitation counselor and ergonomist.