2222222222

Absence Management

Lost Worker Days Cut Sales and Ruin Reputations

As employer needs and challenges have grown more complex, integrated absence and disability management may provide an answer.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 8 min read

Despite the significant buzz surrounding the concept of integrated disability management when it emerged, it never became quite the industry standard that many expected. Two decades later, however, employers are finding new reasons to take an interest.

Advertisement




“Back in the mid ’90s, IDM emerged as a hot topic, but the focus at that point was on creating a single organizational unit to manage both occupational and non-occupational disabilities,” explained Tom Parry, president emeritus and co-founder of the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI).

“And as you might imagine, the people in those separate units didn’t like the idea of someone winning and someone losing.”

People worried, perhaps justifiably, that bringing together occupational and non-occupational programs would mean consolidation, and that jobs would be eliminated, said Parry. So there was tremendous pushback against establishing one organizational unit.

And while those separate organizational units are still in place, a great many other things have changed. Employers, particularly large ones, have achieved a high level of claims sophistication. Newer claims technologies and analytics are allowing them insight into their data at a level never before imagined, prompting employers to leverage that data to find opportunities to improve absence and disability management across programs “rather than trying to break down walls between them,” said Parry.

Tom Parry, president emeritus and co-founder, Integrated Benefits Institute

“I think that we’ve realized that sharing information, creating integrated databases, and really looking at and using data as a way to identify real issues is really what’s driving this process,” he said.

As opposed to only viewing data within silos, integrating information allows employers to see commonalities across programs that might not otherwise be obvious, and also can help identify opportunities to share practices and resources for the benefit of all programs.

“If you can benchmark the [individual programs] by diagnosis,” said Parry, “then you can start to look across programs and see — does the workers’ comp side do a better job with back injuries, for example? What kinds of diagnoses are prominent in both systems? and how can I bring a strategy in medical management and return to work that really focuses on those as the first step?”

Protecting Productivity

The economic and labor landscapes have changed as well. Companies are operating leaner, and upheavals in numerous industries have created talent shortages. Now, more than ever, employers are grasping how each absence takes a toll on the company, even beyond the obvious.

Matt Sears, executive vice president of employee benefits at EPIC, related a story about a meeting with a CFO of a large national retailer. Sears was in the process of translating the company’s lost days into dollars and cents when the CFO asked him to focus on the number of lost days again.

“I think that we’ve realized that sharing information, creating integrated databases, and really looking at and using data as a way to identify real issues is really what’s driving this process.” — Tom Parry, president emeritus and co-founder, Integrated Benefits Institute

“That’s more important to me,” the CFO said to Sears. “We deliver to our customers, so if I have people who are missing days that means we’re missing delivery deadlines. That’s going to reduce sales for us and ruin our reputation — I’m more interested in how many of those days you can solve.”

“A lot of employers are starting to recognize that the Holy Grail isn’t claims costs,” said Sears. “The Holy Grail is productivity gains.”

That’s also why employers are shaking off the old thinking that non-occupational injuries should be treated with a hands-off approach, said Parry. He said there’s a growing focus on utilizing return-to-work programs for short-term disability, and looking for opportunities to improve medical care and shorten disability durations.

Advertisement




Global return-to-work programs often make sense as a way to introduce the elements of an integrated absence management platform, said Tom Ryan, market research leader with Marsh’s Workers’ Compensation Center of Excellence. Global programs are “agnostic with respect to whether it’s workers’ comp or non-occupational or disability related. It really looks at just the individual, their work capabilities, and the time frame for when they can return to modified duty.”

It’s a win-win for employers and employees, said Ryan, and it’s also one of the easier ways to get buy in from stakeholders, he said. “Nobody wants to say that they don’t want to bring people back to work — that doesn’t make good business sense.”

Regulatory Jungle

Experts said one of the most significant drivers of renewed interest in an integrated platform is the unruly tangle of absence and disability laws that employers are required to keep track of and comply with. There are hundreds of federal, state and municipal law related to job absence, including FMLA and a plethora of new paid leave laws to sort through.

Employers operating nationwide have their work cut out for them trying to stay in compliance.

And it’s all too easy to make a misstep, said Kelly Dieppa, vice president, Disability & Absence and Affinity Services Operations Head for Broadspire.

“How these new state leave laws intersect with comp claims and with short term disability … [employers] just don’t understand it,” she said.

Matt Sears, executive vice president of employee benefits, EPIC

“Those days are gone, of feeling like they have control over everything and they really understand everything; it’s scary to employers. We’re in such a litigious culture and it gets worse and worse. They want to make sure they’re covered.

“I think from a compliance standpoint it’s only going to get worse for employers — it’s not going to get better, that’s for sure.”

Dieppa said that when employers are using a more integrated leave administration platform and using a consistent approach across occupational and non-occupational programs, it puts them in a much better place from a compliance standpoint.

“You’re treating everyone through the same lens, applying the same method of screening and eligibility across the board. So even if it’s work related, you know right up front if they’re [also] eligible for a state leave law of some kind. Whereas in a traditional work-related situation, you’re just dealing with that workers’ comp claim itself — you’re not layering anything else in at the initial injury.”

Crunching the Numbers

The data piece of the puzzle is light years ahead of where it was at the inception of IDM, but it’s still labor intensive, said EPIC’s Sears.

“Depending upon the client’s level of sophistication and organization and access to all of that data it’s difficult for them to pull that together,” he said. In some situations, an employer might have every leave program administered by a different entity.

“There’s no magic box; there’s no single data tool,” he said.

“We pull data from IBI to use it for benchmarking comparisons,” he explained, but to do a proper analysis across programs, “somebody has to just roll up their sleeves, spread everything out on a conference table and start going through looking for the patterns,” he said.

The key for brokers and other vendors is to focus that data, said IBI’s Parry.

“The danger in that is the employer starts being inundated with reports. It really puts the onus on the supplier partner, whether it’s a broker or the company selling IDM, to really focus attention in reporting on things that matter, not just give the employer every possible exhibit that can come out of that integrated database.

“We have to really focus on what really matters, what’s actionable. What are the three things the employer should do, rather than giving them a 200-page report of every single exhibit that system can generate.”

Making the Case

Parry cautioned that integrating data takes time and money, which means making the business case for it. Nobody’s integrating data just for the sake of doing it, he said.

“You want to integrate data to have better results.” And that’s what the C-suite needs to hear.

Advertisement




“If I’m going to the CFO and saying hey give me $100,000 to integrate our data, the CFO’s going to say. ‘OK, what are we going to get for that?’ You’ve got the have an answer for that.”

The pragmatic strategy, said Parry, is to “benchmark your individual programs, look for opportunities, and take some steps. Then go to the CFO and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve done with siloed data. If we integrate data, we can focus on individuals and really drive a much higher penetration of strategy and outcomes than we ever have before.

“I think that’s a strategy that can really work for employers.”

So while the old concept of building a single organizational unit for absence and disability management may be off the table, IDM is still a significant platform for helping employers improve productivity, increase efficiencies, and decrease risk exposures.

“We can build a stronger program together than we can apart,” said Pam Bogner, DMEC education programs manager. “We can increase the efficiencies for both the employer and the employee. We can have what the employer needs to minimize their risk exposure — whether that’s financially, legally, or otherwise — together versus separately.

“If we all respect each other, if we all listen to each other and work together, we can accomplish more. And it’s going to bring better quality to the employer, to the employees and decrease risk exposure from all perspectives.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

Advertisement




In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

Advertisement




Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

Advertisement




How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

Advertisement




One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]