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Optimum Talks Blog

Experiencing the Reality of Long-Term Disability – Part Two

by Diane Wheatley

It’s devastating to have an employee suffer a severe health matter, you can feel helpless, and you fear for their recovery.  Unfortunately, long-term disability (LTD) happens often, according to Statistics Canada, 22% of Canadians had at least one disability in 2017.

This blog post is the second part of a two-part series about experiencing the reality of long term disability. This blog is written by Optimum Talent’s Chief Administrative Officer, Diane Wheatley, and details how Diane and Optimum Talent assisted Ramona with her road to recovery and her transition back into the workplace.

 

Most of us know of someone, or have ourselves, experienced some sort of short-term or long-term disability during our careers.  Absences from work typically arise from illness, stress, injury or an extenuating family situation, the length of the absence varies greatly depending on the circumstance.  According to the Council for Disability Awareness nearly one quarter of today’s 20-year old’s have a chance of becoming disabled at some point in their career.  Some disabilities will require more support than the amount provided by the typical short-term disability policy.  On average long-term disability incidents last about 35 months, meaning almost 3 years of lost work and foregone income.  The circumstances surrounding long-term leaves are never the same; however, the rules regarding how the cases are handled generally follow the same process.

 

The Situation

Prior to our merger with Optimum Talent Inc., I could confidently say I personally knew all our colleagues and their personal circumstances (if they were married, had children, their hobbies, interests, etc.).  After the merger of Conroy Ross Partners and Optimum Talent Inc. the number of colleagues in the firm tripled, and we moved from having five offices to 15!

I had one brief meet and greet with Ramona during a visit to Toronto, I remember she had a bubbly, welcoming personality… perfect for the Career Transition (CT) practice.  Ramona was known to be a Rockstar to her team and the clients that she supported.

The next time I heard about Ramona was after she suffered her stroke. I learned the stroke was severe, and that the Toronto team was deeply affected as this young, vibrant woman’s life changed in the blink of an eye.  At the time, those around her felt her youth and her positive attitude would accelerate her recovery and ultimately her return to work. Many of her colleagues reached out to Ramona to offer support and whatever assistance they could offer during this emotional time.  As an HR talent management firm with our specialty of dealing with people, we had to be cautious of her personal space and recovery.  Although many of her colleagues wanted to reach out, there was a fine line to ensure they did not suffocate her with visits and phone calls when she needed to focus on getting herself well.  Ramona’s direct supervisor continued to check in and the HR team started the long-term disability process.

The Transition

Over the next several months we were informed that Ramona would require long-term disability and that her road to recovery would be long.  Managing this part of the disability process is always tricky for me.  Dozens of questions go through your mind. How often should we reach out? Should we wait for her to reach out?  What would I want if I was Ramona?  Because we are a HR talent firm, I had this overwhelming feeling that we should have a better than normal standard of supporting our colleagues during this life changing event but always in the back of your mind you want to respect their privacy.

Although we knew ‘on paper’ what Ramona’s return-to-work date would be, we needed to wait for Ramona’s assessment results before we could determine what parts of her role we would have to amend, modify or change altogether.  Prior to the stroke Ramona would set up workshops for the CT clients which included setting up boardrooms, greeting clients, getting them set up with a computer, etc.  This part of her role would not be possible now, given her physical limitations.  Her role in the office was largely hands on, so we had to really think about what parts of her role we would have to alter or remove altogether to make her transition back to work a positive one.  Our first few conversations with Ramona were challenging.  She had very specific expectations on how she would re-enter the work force; and I was responsible for managing the needs of the business and what would work best for Ramona.  To add to these complications, I am in Edmonton and Ramona was in Toronto.  These were uncharted waters for all of us as it was the first time we had managed this type of disability case. We knew we wanted to make this a success story, but we needed Ramona to meet us halfway.  After several emails and medical recommendations, we called Ramona and together were able to come up with a hybrid work arrangement, and it was completely different than what we were both expecting; we all agreed that we couldn’t map out a typical day for Ramona, and instead determined we would take it one day at a time.  This allowed all the pieces to come together. Ramona didn’t have the added stress of doing her old role exactly as it had previously been done and OTI could add and remove responsibilities as needed.

 

Where We Are at Now

We have hit our stride; Ramona is incredible to work with and has embraced her new role which has been a bonus to our Finance and Accounting team. Ramona is a testament to positivity and resilience, and we couldn’t be happier to have her back as part of our team.  If I could pass on one piece of advice to other organizations, it would be to communicate with colleagues on disability as often as possible, and to work together to come up with solutions that benefit both. As the saying goes, “two heads are always better than one”.

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