By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
What is it about 7,000 little blue chairs?
There's actually a lot to it if you think about it, and that is exactly the point.
In the case of the Simsbury, Conn- based The Hartford, the thousands of little chairs that they mailed to benefits decision-makers in early May were a reminder to risk managers and human resources executives of all those empty chairs in their own offices. They may be adding up to something. That is, big productivity losses for employees who are out either on long-term disability, a workers' compensation injury, or a federal or state mandated leave of absence.
The Hartford came up with the idea of mailing the miniature blue chairs to remind executives who are looking at their July 1 or year-end program renewals that the empty chairs cost something not just in the area of lost productivity. There is also the rhyming word of liability, which is what employers face if they don't educate themselves on the increasingly complex fabric of state, municipal and federal laws regarding leaves of absence.
Patricia Purdy, an assistant vice president of product development and the absence and disability lead for the company, said The Hartford is currently managing more than 135 different types of leaves for clients. It's a growth area for lots of companies, what with increases in the types of protected leaves offered by state and federal governments and the ever-increasing responsibility to military veterans and their families, given the hundreds of thousands of workers that have served their country in the extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With its status as a leading workers' compensation carrier, The Hartford thinks it can help drive the market toward a more integrated approach to looking at absence or leave management. The idea is that a combination of risk-transfer products, plus consulting services on the legal patchwork governing leaves of absence, will provide value for employers, particularly those who manage workers in a number of states with their wide variety of local statutes.
"If an employer is not well-versed in what that law is or how much time that employee is eligible to take, they can find themselves in some hot water if they don't do the right thing," Purdy said.
And there are plenty of companies looking for help integrating compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act with short-term disability and other employee absence entitlements, according to another professional.
"What we hear from them repeatedly is they have a distinct feeling they are out of compliance with FMLA. They feel like they are overapproving leaves because they don't know how to administer properly, so they tend to overapprove everybody that wants to take a leave," said Julie Norville, an Atlanta-based national absence management practice leader for Aon
She said that employers who aren't analyzing all of their management programs and integrating them are probably wasting precious energy.
"If you take action on Family Medical Leave Act administration and you don't take in the concurrency of time off, short-term disability and workers' comp or return to work, you may inadvertently be pushing one lever and pulling on another one that you didn't mean to influence," she said.
Purdy added that executives at The Hartford are pleased with the online traffic they got as a result of the massive chair mailing, but it wasn't just a stunt to create clicks.
"One of the great challenges in any insurance product or the product that we sell is that it is really hard sometimes for people to connect conceptually with it because it is in many ways a promise, a service or something that in many ways you can't really put your arms around or touch or take for a test drive," Purdy said.
"So I think the whole concept of an empty chair to illustrate lack of productivity if an employee is not at work and the whole issue of absence management services really brings it to light, and certainly that chair is a strong visual of a serious work issue," Purdy said.
May 24, 2011
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