Dig Beneath the Surface to Ensure Empathy When Assessing Accommodation Requests
By Kymberly Clay, CPDM, CLMS, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Alexander Clay Group, Disability Management Solutions; and Azucena M. Coronel, CPDM, CLMS, Manager, Integrated and Absence Management, County of Orange
Globally, more than 12 billion working days are lost annually to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.1
How can absence and disability management professionals interact differently with employees to stem that tide? We are positioned to influence and support employees through the leave process to help them avoid a disordered approach to leave and accommodation. When employees have an unexpected crisis such as a medical challenge, they may feel out of control. Experienced absence and disability managers can often provide creative solutions to help employees navigate the crisis.
For example, dealing with a crisis may affect employees’ relationships with family and friends, or work behavior with supervisors and co-workers. It may result in absenteeism or influence employees’ punctuality and job performance. Employees may fall asleep in meetings, raise their voices at supervisors, fail to meet deadlines, and even cry at their workstations. While all of these issues prompt concern, they might be symptoms of emotional distress, anxiety, and confusion. When not addressed, employees may end up feeling like they have not been heard or supported, which affects morale and retention.
Absence and disability managers can make a difference by providing guidance during tumultuous times, being objective, and using traditional and nontraditional approaches to the leave process. While some of us have specialized in absence management for most of our careers, we can redefine the way we do our work to ensure a transparent process with empathetic and compassionate conversations that are prompted by active listening.
Data confirm that the longer employees are on leave, the less likely they are to return to work.2 Our focus, therefore, should be on retention when working with employees on accommodation and leave requests. One way to accomplish this is by explaining how important employees are as contributors, and that they belong on the team.
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