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4 Steps to Award Winning Absence Management

4 Steps to Award Winning Absence Management

September 3, 2020

In the field of absence management here in Canada there’s no greater recognition than the Workplace Canada Award. Companies are judged on a broad range of criteria including innovation, clarity, ease of use, compliance, impact on productivity, cost controls and impact on employees.

That’s why we’re so thrilled that our partner, EPCOR Utilities Inc., is the recipient of the 2016 award!

EPCOR provides clean water and safe, reliable electricity in Western Canada, Arizona and New Mexico, and employs over 2,700 multi-union workers. The journey that led them to the 2016 Workplace Canada Award began back in 2008 when they decided to integrate EFAP, Disability Management, and Occupational Health Services into into a single, cohesive health program.   

Since then EPCOR has carefully implemented a program that serves as a gold standard for organizational absence management. Here are the four strategic steps they took - and others should follow, to emulate EPCOR’s success.

1. Define success: articulate organizational goals.

In 2008, EPCOR saw an opportunity to bring together various independent health services into one integrated health program.  Previously they had various independent contractors and internal resource management, a segmented health strategy, and a lack of coordination between non-occupational and occupational health management services. A comprehensive review led to the formation of specific goals:

  • Better support for employees and managers through a coordinated approach, with programs that promote employee health and wellness  
  • Decrease absence durations with (a) processes that streamline disability management and (b) safe and sustainable return-to-work planning
  • Help unionized and non-unionized employees better understand the disability management process to remove uncertainty for managers and workers alike
  • Integrate health management through structural transformation, consolidating services with a single provider to create a “one stop shop” for ease, efficiency and integration
  • Support a physically and mentally healthy workplace throughout the spectrum of disability, starting at day one of an absence
  • Introduce better program governance and reporting
  • Establish a governance committee to monitor results and drive program enhancements
  • Improve data management and reporting to create better visibility to trending and absence information for management
  • Communicate and review results with HR leaders and business unit leaders to inform awareness and drive further targeted initiatives

2. Commit to change.

It was during phase one - articulating objectives and getting consensus on them - that Morneau Shepell began working with EPCOR. , and together

These goals wouldn’t be possible without the commitment to change:

  • Leadership support for an integrated health services model
  • Sufficient internal resources focused on absence prevention, employee health and wellness, and sustainable return-to-work practices
  • Clear and effective communication with unions to ensure their support
  • A shift in employee culture towards early support, wellness and STD plan awareness
  • Consolidation of health services management with a single partner, Morneau Shepell, for a more strategic, integrated approach to organizational absence

3. Implement best practices.

A key determinant of success was to implement case management best practices. Working with EPCOR we introduced new, standardized procedures including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Day 1 Absence Reporting – A standard process was implemented where employees call the absence reporting line each day they are away (days 1-3). Early support is offered when needed as early as day 1 for case management and EFAP.
  • Early Intervention – Medical and non-medical assessment (triage) now occurs on day 4 rather than 6. In triage instances the case manager conducts a phone assessment to determine if medical evidence is required. They also gauge whether the the absence is likely to exceed 10 days. If so, the employee is placed on STD and comprehensive case management strategies commence.  
  • Better use of EFAP - Integration of health services with a single provider, coupled with our early intervention strategy, resulted in higher EFAP use. In 2015 usage was 24% (9% higher than industry average).
  • External Review – Cases are now assessed and validated by a third party provider (Morneau Shepell), rather than internally, ensuring confidentiality of medical information.
  • Satisfaction Surveys – In addition to audits, program quality and satisfaction is now measured via manager and employee satisfaction surveys provided at the closure of each STD claim.  

4. Measure success and optimize.

Over the past few years EPCOR has continued to measure and optimize success against its stated objectives, establishing a pattern of continual improvement. Significant decreases in disability absence duration have had a positive impact on EPCOR’s bottom line, clearly validating investments in case management and process improvements.

Here are a few results from 2015 that demonstrate the success of EPCOR’s absence management strategy:

  • Successful return-to-work rates of 80% or greater, year over year
  • Percentage of day 1 to 3 absences decreased by 7% over the prior year
  • Reduction of STD non-support rates from 7% in 2010 to 2% or less from 2013-present  
  • Decreased cost of STD year over year, despite increase in average daily wage and employee population
  • 97% goal attainment for EFAP counselling
  • 88% EFAP satisfaction score amongst employees, who also indicated they would use EFAP again

Just as impressive are the cultural accolades EPCOR continues to enjoy while optimizing processes and procedures. They have been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for Young People for five straight years and one of Alberta’s top 70 Employers eleven years in a row. And recently they were included in Corporate Knights magazine’s list of Canada’s Future 40 Responsible Corporate Leaders.  

Congratulations EPCOR and here’s to your continued success!