The Personal Touch: Use Technology to Support It
By William Frystak, CLMS
Disability Case Manager
By Jeffery Nelson, CDMS
Employee Health and
The lure to automate all aspects of leave management can be enticing. Laws are becoming more complex, businesses are offering multiple types of leaves, and the number of employees utilizing leaves continues to grow. Integrating a leave management technology to sort out the complexities seems like a no-brainer. But amid increased high-tech processes, employers must not forget to stay high-touch when needed — especially during essential one-on-one communication such as the interactive accommodation process.
Global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has an insourced disability management (DM) team responsible for administering medical leaves for our approximately 15,000 employees based in the United States and Puerto Rico. Just as our mission is to help our patients do more, feel better, and live longer, GSK believes in assisting our employees to do the same. GSK previously used its own internally created occupational/case management software. Today, we use a combination of vendor-created occupational software and a human resources information system (HRIS) to help with both occupational and nonoccupational leave and case management responsibilities.
But technology cannot do it all. Things that the most sophisticated technology cannot identify, such as employee relations or performance issues, require human-to-human interaction to reassure an employee that the company has a stake in their healthy return to work. And the personal touch from our internal DM leave managers ensures a safe, timely, and productive return to work (RTW).
Our two most successful high-touch functions are facilitating the interactive process for accommodations and RTW meetings. The best way to understand an employee’s request for accommodation and to enable RTW is to actively engage the person to discover what barriers are standing in the way of performing the essential functions of the role.
That employee is best positioned to understand what is in the way of being successful at work. A DM leave manager uses a coaching approach in conversations with employees to enable the employee to clarify the issue, come up with possible solutions, and then move toward action. Asking the right follow-up questions can help the employee drill down to the root of the barrier and help overcome it. DM leave managers also coach our colleagues in HR, to help them support accommodations and add to the HR professional toolkit for future cases.
We focus on high-risk cases, in which direct contact with a DM leave manager is of greatest value and impact. This makes for a better experience for all stakeholders. Employees feel heard, understood, and valued, and managers feel better educated, informed, and able to respond and plan for business continuity appropriately.
More routine cases also benefit from our high-touch philosophy, which is rooted in the knowledge that the employees we support are the same people who work every day to improve the lives of our customers through our products at GSK. We personalize standard and automated form statements and communication, and assign a designated contact person, our DM, for all employees who use our medical and family leave benefits. This DM will be assigned to any medical or family leave an employee takes for the next two years. This promotes familiarity between the employee, manager, and DM. That familiarity can be crucial if, down the line, the interactive accommodations process becomes necessary. Feedback has suggested that managers and employees appreciate knowing whom to contact for questions about a specific leave.
When we communicate, we find that simple touches such as using a preferred nickname or including information from a previous interaction promotes employee engagement and builds trust. Our leave managers also congratulate parents on welcoming a new child into the family and check in with caregivers to see how both family member and employee are doing. We console those who have lost loved ones. And we are the first to welcome people back to work after their extended medical or family leaves.
GSK frees up our time and energy to focus on real human interaction by streamlining standard and regulatory communications. The use of our HRIS software promotes employee self-service and helps us manage our resources. Employees submit leave requests through the system, via smartphone or computer, eliminating the need for face-to-face or other live interaction to simply request time off. GSK is committed to making sure employees feel happy, healthy, and energized. The ease of submitting leaves through multiple platforms ensures that employees can access needed time off, enabling them to return to work faster and, hopefully, healthier than if barriers were in place. We streamline leave claims that meet certain criteria that have proven to require less input. These uses of software and streamlining techniques ensure that simpler claims do not receive unnecessary attention or follow-up and complex claims can start the interactive process earlier and more successfully.
We use technology for data and reporting, automation, education, and electronic medical record (EMR) purposes: dates, types of leave, certification forms, and time-keeping. We also seek to echo the company’s mission in our integrated absence management program. Our program continuously improves our “high-touch” look and feel by routinely seeking feedback from our customers and stakeholders. This has enabled us to continuously improve our just-in-time communication and responsiveness.
For example, we created a website where all employees and managers can access a simple checklist and certification forms to understand the end-to-end process of requesting leave. The site also provides supporting documentation and helps with planning return to work with or without work restrictions.
This improvement has resulted in substantially quicker receipt of supporting medical documentation, which contrasts with past years when there was employee confusion regarding form due dates and next steps causing unnecessary delays. Following implementation, 41% of documents arrived within a week and 75% within two weeks of the first day of leave. Prior to implementation, 19% arrived within the first week and 35% within two weeks. The time that was spent chasing forms can now be used to provide other services. In addition, 94% of our customers report a positive leave experience based on survey results.
We recognize that not all employers utilize an insourced model. However, we believe the following best practices are universal, regardless of the preferred sourcing model:
- Data and reporting are integrated with HRIS, with use of EMR for case management being essential for measuring, understanding leave experience, and predicting future leaves.
- Employees and managers both can access HRIS for self-service to proactively initiate and view leave requests. This empowers employees to use benefits to solve problems and reduce stress in their personal lives, which helps them stay engaged with GSK. Managers use the HRIS to achieve clarity regarding anticipated and current leaves for business planning purposes.
- A designated contact is used for the interactive process. This person understands the culture, actively listens, coaches, empathizes, and routinely communicates effectively with all stakeholders. At GSK, the designated contact is a member of our DM Team. This person will have or will develop an established relationship with the employee and the employee’s manager, administer the benefit, and facilitate RTW.
High-tech information systems have a growing place in integrated absence management (IAM), especially in capturing accurate data and making it accessible to authorized users. By using these systems effectively, employers can reduce demands on their IAM staff, freeing their time for the high-touch functions in leave management and accommodations that will help employees stay engaged with the organization.