While companies are busy reducing their negative externalities, overhauling their HR policies and committing themselves to the well-being of the society, there is a subject not receiving the attention it deserves, despite being a major concern for all players and a significant factor in social exclusion: the reintegration back to work (“RTW”) of employees after a long absence due to illness ironically seems the greatest absentee from employers’ social sustainability programs.
1. Reintegration To Work: the next employee challenging step after recovery
Returning to work after a long absence is often a complex process both for the employee and the employer. When not proactively managed, it may end in failure and ultimately, in the employee’s exclusion from the world of work.
In its “15e Baromètre sur l’Absentéisme 2023” Ayming1 reports that for 46% of employees in France, who have been off work for more than 90 days, the return to work resulted in further absences, due to poor reintegration into the company.
Without a voluntary policy orchestrated by the employer in facilitating the RTW of its employees after a long absence, the returning journey may look like another highly challenging step for the employee that he/she must face alone, most of the time.
For those employees failing on this complicated journey, further challenges lie ahead in being able to remain in the employment market. All statistics converge in showing that sick leave has a penalizing effect on career paths, for both men and women and that the longer the sick leave, the greater the risk.
An inconvenient reality, at a time when companies are being called upon to assume greater social responsibility.
2. Illness At Work, a key challenge for the Luxembourg economy
Long-term employee absence due to sickness has been steadily increasing over recent years. It affects more and more young people as well.
The impact on wider society is just as telling. Failed RTW triggers higher medical reimbursements, increased unemployment, and incurs a range of other costs in terms of social benefits.
In this equation, the employer also has a lot to lose: increased operational risks, replacement costs, a negative impact on the teams’ commitment and on the company’s reputation etc.
Conversely, employers who are able to maintain a quality of communication with their employee absent for sickness and who make the RTW of their employee a project in its own right, are able to measure the benefits of such a policy on their profitability.
In 2021, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) estimated that the economic return for employers spending on RTW is on average 3.7, eg, for every dollar invested, employers achieve an average return of more than three times the initial investment.
3. Necessary cooperation between employee and employer
We always find the same principal causes behind a failure in the RTW process after a long illness.
On the one hand the fragilization of the link between the employee and the employer during the employee’s absence from work (complexity of certain situations, delicate boundary with private life, general unease in communicating around illness and employee mistrust may taint the quality of interactions). Yet, maintaining a meaningful link with the employee (through HR, N+1 and colleagues) allowing to cultivate the employee’s sense of belonging is a fundamental aspect in successful RTW.
A second factor is the insufficient or late preparation of the employee’s RTW. Just as the absence of follow -up of the employee’s needs after its return to work, Médecine du Travail being no longer involved in that phase.
To overcome these issues, a sound cooperation between the employer and the employee is needed and it is for the employer to create a climate of trust and establish the safeguards to allow this to happen.
The adVeci Disability Management program provides support for the employer and its employees experiencing long term illness to enable an efficient and sustainable reintegration to work in the interest of all parties.