Depressed? Need benefits?

How many public servants have received disability benefits in the past year? More then 10,500 public servants received disability benefits since last April! Not all were permanently disabled. About 3,000 are in the process of returning to work.

What is the cost to the government of disability claims? Millions of dollars are spent due to absenteeism, short and long term disability and the cost of replacing and retraining workers. Part of this expense would be further reduced if more employees returned to work and disability was better managed. It is estimated that this would result in a decrease of 3% of the premiums paid out now for disability plans.

What is this in dollars and cents costs to Canadians? The Treasury Board accounts show the government paid about $331 million in 2007-08 in premiums and fees to the insurance companies. We also paid $436 million in salaries for workers who were on sick leave. Are you aware that a public servant gets 15 sick days for every year they work? These days can be banked over their career.

The government uses different insurance companies and negotiates the rates paid based on the expectation of claims to be made. Public servants only pay 15% of their premiums and the government pays the rest. The executives in the government do not pay any percentage of their premium - it is all paid by the government on their behalf.

Be aware that people with depression use the health care system four times more then usual. If you are using anti-depressants then you are also more likely to be treated for diabetes, hypertension, pain and other health problems.
Health insurance is going to see an overhaul by the Harper government. The issue is how it is managing disability claims in the public service. Statistics show that stress, depression, and other mental illness account for almost 45% of all claims.

There has a been a big rise in the mental health claims that are affecting employee performance and resulting in disability claims. It is heartening that there is going to be an aspect of risk management in the plan. The new "workforce wellness" strategy will promote prevention and help to remove the stigma out of mental illness. This should help to get people treated and back to work as quickly as possible.

We all suffer to some degree from burnout, stress, depression and anxiety in our jobs. With our challenged economy the feelings have gotten worse, not better.

When we examine disability claims in Canada we see that between 40-50% are for depression. Unfortunately the public service mental health claims have doubled since 1991 and 2008. Depression claims account for 45% of all claims made. So change is needed and it has to come from the government.

The Conservatives have a freeze on hiring that means more work for less workers. This puts added stress on the workers who do not succumb to depression but a cycle is started that can lead directly to a disability claim. Be aware that this does not just affect the government office worker. Depression is affecting nurses, teachers, police, military and the bureaucrats.

The ability to think well is extremely important in all jobs. One of the concerns is that if you do take a year off due to mental illness then there is less then a 2% chance you will return to that job. The key is to get people back to work as quickly as possible, ideally within six months.

The reforms proposed by the Treasury Branch aim at preventing injury and illness at the workplace. The managers of these employees have to be supportive with recognizing who needs the time off, getting the necessary care and want return to work as soon as possible.

We all know how depressing the feeling can be of abandonment. If you are an employee with a lot of sick leave banked then you might be likely to be ignored. This has to change. The managers have to encourage their employees to come back and if necessary, amend their positions to make this possible.

Some of the methods that managers can use is to review workloads, offer the best tools and technology to facilitate efficiency of the process. The manager's creativity to suit the employee's needs to the job will be called into play and if well done, could significantly reduce some of the disability benefits being paid out.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised, in the last budget, to examine ways all compensation costs, including benefits, could be better managed to save money. With the economy so challenged this would be a good thing to see.

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