20 years of data highlight workforce productivity challenges
An analysis of 20 years of
The study also found a reduction in absences related to depression coupled with an increase in prescribed antidepressants, which may signal an underlying problem of presenteeism.
Presenteeism, defined as sick or distracted employees who choose to work anyway, accounts for 39.4 percent of the total cost of obesity to employers1 and as much as 75 percent of lost employee productivity from U.S. employers.2
These and other health trends identified by the
"Employers who focus on productivity as an outcome will succeed in the future. Though medical advances have helped improve the quality of life for many people, lifestyle and behavioral factors remain key drivers of abseentism," said
Workforce Productivity Challenges
The most frequently approved shortterm disability claims, both 20 years ago and today, remain musculoskeletal disorders, which make up 25 percent of all non-maternity absence. While some diagnostic categories in this grouping benefit from medical advances, others are impacted by changing demographics and underlying health.
"The aging workforce and a trend toward growing waistlines has made some medical conditions more dominant factors for short-term disabilities than they were 20 years ago," said Anfield. "For example, arthritis and tendonitisrelated absences have both increased more than 50 percent since 1993."
The study, however, found significant changes in short-term disability rates for obesity, cancer, depression, and herniated discs that highlight the impact of medical advances on absence and productivity.
Herniated Discs. As new techniques have improved the efficacy of back surgery, the number of procedures has gone up and the average amount of time out of work has decreased. Simultaneously, these medical advances have led to an increase in the number of eligible candidates for surgery and an overall net increase in lost productivity time.
Local governments should consider implementing programs that target specific conditions. For those individuals who may not need surgery, you may want to take a fresh look at the employee's workstation and other factors that can contribute to back and muscle issues. For those who require surgery, vocational rehabilitation programs are designed to help individuals successfully reenter the workforce.
"The rise of vocational rehabilitation services and improvements in returnto-work programs over the past 20 years helped individuals return to work faster," Anfield said. "Employers need to understand that as medical treatments improve, the number of employees in need of programs to help them stay at work or return to work increases."
Obesity. Over the past 20 years, the number of obese Americans has doubled. At the same time, short-term disability claims related to obesity have increased by 3,300 percent, according to
Absence isn't the only worry when it comes to obesity. Individuals suffering from obesity may avoid changes in lifestyle, which can lead to an increase in physical and mental challenges, such as the onset of depression.
Although bariatric surgery has improved the lives of many people, it can only be as effective as the healthy lifestyle changes the individual adopts after surgery. In some cases, individuals who fail to change habits find the success of the surgery won't last long. Employers that provide resources and coaching, such as employee assistance programs (EAP) and vocational rehabilitation services, can help employees become more productive and enjoy long-lasting health.
Cancer. According to the
Overall, cancer screening and advances in medical treatment have reduced the number of cancer-related deaths and the duration of cancer-related disability claims. More survivors are now able to return to work, but employers should implement absence management strategies that integrate wellness programs, disease management programs, and vocational rehabilitation services to meet the needs of cancer patients.
Employers should also anticipate that caregivers who look after family members with cancer will require family and medical leave (FML) time. The stress and other demands placed on a caregiver may carry a mental and physical toll. Nearly 80 percent of FML absences can also become a short-term disability event.5
Depression. Twenty years ago, depression was the third leading cause of a short-term disability. Today,
More than one-fourth of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.6 Since 1993, the use of antidepressant medications increased from 37.3 percent to 74.5 percent.7 As the underlying causes of depression are left untreated, the condition can have a significant impact on individuals' health and their workforce contributions, underscoring the importance of an employee assistance program to help people with behavioral health needs to access care.
About the Study
For more about the study, visit http : //newsro om. cigna. com/20 -yeardisability-study. pyi
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1 Integrated Benefits Institute Analysis 2012.
3 "Reducing the Incidence of Short-Term Disability: Testing the Effectiveness of an Absence Prediction and Prevention Intervention Using an Experimental Design,"
4 Cancer Facts & Fgures 2014,
5 Early Warnings: Using FMLA to Understand and Manage Disability Absence,
6 Mental Disorders in America,
7 Depression treatment rates increase over past decade, but psychotherapy declines, Archives of General Psychiatry, 2010.