Benchmarks help firms compare disability management practices

A few major Canadian companies have begun to recognize the importance of using “best practices” in disability management strategies with their injured employees.

There is evidence to suggest that companies could save money by adopting such strategies. Yet on a broader scale, most employers want to see the proof that any such investments will pay off.

Independent research could provide this type of information, but it takes great effort, time and resources for researchers to build relationships with individual employers or private insurers, who may be reluctant to share their information on disability costs.

The Workplace Disability Management Benchmarking Collaborative (WDMB), based at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), was created to tackle these barriers.

The premise is simple. Workplaces that participate – which include 11 major organizations to date – will report on their disability management experiences. These confidential findings will be pooled to create a benchmark, or a standard point of reference. The project gives companies an incentive to participate, says Dr. Donald Cole, a senior scientist at IWH, who helped initiate the collaborative. The results will provide companies with indicators on how well they are doing, relative to their peers.

The collaborative is a combined effort of the Institute, Clarke Brown Associates, Organizational Solutions and workplaces. This approach builds on the success of a similar American initiative called the Employer Measures of Productivity, Absence and Quality (EMPAQ).

So far, the companies on board include five major Canadian banks, three large insurance companies, and three other organizations including McMaster University in Hamilton and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

What I’m hearing consistently is that there isn’t any other organization, besides the Institute, which can bring all these parties together to share best practices, says Leslie Stephenson, leader of the WDMB project. The Institute has helped create a bridge between scientists and physicians, and corporate executives in human resources, finance and marketing.

The collaborative has been piloting a set of benchmarking measures, which have been provided by a representative from each company. These measures fall into three broad categories: outcomes, processes and the satisfaction of participants in the disability process.

One example of an outcome measure on short-term disability asks for the number of new claims per 100 employees covered by insurance. An example of a long-term disability measure is the lost number of workdays per active compensation claim. The outcome measures are similar to those used by EMPAQ.

In the first stage of the program, we are also finding out which benchmarks are useful to companies, says Irina Rivilis, co-ordinator of the WDMB, who is a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

Employers were therefore asked to rate whether their organization has calculated each proposed measure, and if not, how useful it would be to them. They were also asked how easily each item could be collected.

The second broad category looks at processes, such as the effectiveness of case management. The third measures the satisfaction of all parties, including the employee, the supervisor or manager, other managers and employee representatives/unions.

The collaborative will hold an invitational forum with all current and prospective partners on May 15 in Toronto to present its findings. The goal is for collaborative partners to sustain long-term membership, similar to the EMPAQ initiative.

We are also looking to expand into the manufacturing sector, says Rivilis. The initial phase of the collaborative was funded by a grant from Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB)’s Research Advisory Council. Following this, external partners in the financial and insurance sectors each contributed $10,000 to obtain the first set of benchmarks.

Source: At Work, Issue 48, Spring 2007: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto