Preventing the need for disability leave is preferable to managing disability claims. At the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans, IBI Director of Research and Measurement Brian Gifford illustrated how modifiable health risks and biometric lab results predict employees’ later short-term disability (STD) claims. Analyzing data from Aetna disability claims, HRA survey responses, and biometric lab results, the data indicate that:

  • Psychological distress and obesity are of particular concern for the risk of an STD in the subsequent 12 months.
  • Several unhealthy biometrics – including hypertension; low HDL cholesterol; and high triglycerides, fasting blood glucose, or glycated hemoglobin – indicate a higher than average chance of an STD.

While this analysis does not permit causal interpretations, the findings are consistent with the proposition that much of the productivity losses due to illness are preventable.

Recommendations for employers:

  • Clinical and workplace initiatives that help workers manage their weight eat healthier, become more active or quit smoking may lower the risk of a disabling illness episode.
  • To the extent that the organization of work or workplace culture exacerbates stress and psychological distress or presents obstacles to healthier behaviors – such as long hours or minimal access to healthy food options – employers may be sacrificing longer-term productivity for shorter-term gains.

The poster presentation has been adapted to a pdf slide deck for IBI members.