AIA: Early support and absence management for captives

Research findings show the longer an employee is absent from work, the less likely they are to return. In the light of this, AIA’s Christina King explains why having early employee support in a benefits programme is critical to achieving positive outcomes


At AIA, our purpose is to help people live healthier, longer and better lives. In support of this, we offer comprehensive assistance at every stage of a person’s wellbeing journey.

If an employee is injured or becomes unwell, our programmes are designed to support their recovery from the earliest point – because we know timing is everything.

The earlier we can intervene, the greater the impact we have on a person’s recovery. Early support is also critical to achieving positive return to health and work outcomes.

According to research, if an individual is absent from work for 20 days, their likelihood of returning to work reduces to 70%. This steadily drops as time progresses.

That is why we believe in early support, and proactively partner with employers to develop absence management programmes based on our experience. Work offers so much more to an individual than simply generating an income.

It provides a sense of purpose and structure which are protective factors for good health. Returning to work can mean the difference between surviving or thriving after illness or injury.

That’s why, at day 10 of an absence and while in the waiting period, AIA commences support through occupational rehabilitation programmes.

This has shown to drastically improve our customers’ health as well as their return to wellbeing and work.

Employee absence due to illness or injury can negatively impact both employees and employers, affecting morale and increasing the burden on the remaining workforce.

By integrating early intervention and support, we aim to bridge the gap during work absence, promoting better health and overall wellbeing.

Health benefits of good work

Work, often seen as an obligation, holds a key to our wellbeing. Recent evidence highlights the inherent connection between good work and improved health.

Not only is work generally beneficial for our overall wellbeing, but extended absences can have detrimental effects.

Contrary to common misconceptions, even health issues attributed to work, like musculoskeletal and mental health conditions, can improve with good work.

Activity-based rehabilitation and timely return to suitable work have shown to play pivotal roles in enhancing recovery and wellbeing.

Studies underscore the impact of early reintegration back into the workforce. Whether through a swift return to work or maintaining continuous engagement, the positive impacts on health and wellbeing are remarkable.

Notably, individuals with musculoskeletal conditions who are supported in their return to work tend to experience better health outcomes compared to those who remain off work.

Recognising the pivotal role of work in mental health, the Mental Health Council of Australia emphasises the value of early intervention.

Supporting individuals with mental health challenges to re-enter the workforce promptly can significantly improve their prospects of securing and sustaining employment.

This underlines the importance of minimising delays to ensure positive outcomes for both mental health and employment.

In a landscape where the relationship between work and health is complex, these insights highlight the transformative power of good work.

By fostering a workplace that encourages engagement, meaningful contribution and early support, we can harness the health benefits of work, empowering healthier, longer and better lives for all employees.

Top 3 claim causes

AIA Australia’s top three claim conditions are chronic pain, mental ill-health and cancer. These conditions equate to 83% of our income protection (IP) claims.

We offer digital health coaching at the start of our recovery programme to all employees. We know it is important to have the support, empathy and social connection of a personalised coach.

To date, we have supported over 5,000 customers through these early support programmes. Pain Coach is a programme supporting employees with chronic pain from musculoskeletal and/or accident-related injuries.

Through the programme, we’ve seen an 85% improvement in function overall, which is a phenomenal result.

Plus, we know that improvement in function means improved work capacity, which in turn improves the likelihood of a successful return to work outcome.

Mind Coach is a stepped care programme using cognitive behavioural coaching to help employees with depression or anxiety handle the challenges they face.

The programme has seen a 37% improvement in depression, stress and anxiety symptoms for participants.

Employees are supported through enrolment by their claims manager and rehab consultant. The programme is available to employees with both a primary and secondary mental health condition.

CancerAid Coach is a programme for employees undergoing treatment for cancer. They can either self-enrol into the programme at the time they lodge their claim or be supported through enrolment by their claims manager and rehab consultant.

A staggering 40% of Australian cancer survivors never return to work. We’ve identified that employees who use the CancerAid Coach programme are 73% more likely to return to work than those who don’t, and they do so 16.5 weeks earlier.

In partnership with CancerAid Coach, AIA have published these results in the American Society of Clinical Oncology journal.

Overall, employees who engage in personalised coaching have a 35% increase in participation in our traditional occupational rehab programmes, including functional upgrading and return to work support.

This demonstrates how crucial our end-to-end programme support is – helping employees improve their function and symptoms, and ultimately return to life, health and work.

Functional upgrading programmes

AIA Australia is committed to helping employees return to work and life prior to illness or injury. We provide functional upgrading programmes to support employees get back to optimal health and wellness which helps recovery.

This is done through individualised exercise-based rehabilitation programmes to improve function, wellness and work readiness.

Occupational rehab

Returning to suitable work as soon as you’re able is considered one of the best forms of treatment.

If an employee has an injury, disability or health condition, we can arrange work-related rehabilitation services to assist return to work or help them gain new employment.

When it comes to the top three claim conditions for IP and salary continuance insurance (SCI), we have developed a robust ecosystem of programmes to support customers on claim for mental health, chronic pain and cancer.

Many of our programmes can be delivered over the phone or online for convenience. When an employee is ready to consider returning to work, our rehabilitation team will provide options for work readiness, return to work support and executive coaching.

When supporting an employee on their return to work, the most successful outcome is achieved through a holistic assessment that considers the employee’s social situation, psychological factors and other health conditions.

We take a collaborative approach, engaging the employee, their doctor and employer to ensure a safe and sustainable return to work.

Benefits of early support for employers

Providing early support for employees during illness or injury has major advantages for employers, and understanding those is vital in the evolving work landscape:

  1. Enhancing workforce sustainability: Governments are invested in extending the working lives of employees and facilitating their return to work following illness or injury. Anticipating a workforce shortage, strategies aimed at retaining and reintegrating employees are gaining prominence.
  2. Boosting health for increased productivity: Healthier employees are less susceptible to physical and mental health issues, which in turn elevates overall productivity and provides a competitive edge for employers. Engaged employees are also more likely to return to work sooner, leading to longer tenures and nurturing collaborative workplaces.
  3. Reducing the cost of illness and injury: Poor employee health extends far beyond the individual. Often, these repercussions result in direct and indirect costs from both personal and organisational perspectives. Early support not only helps mitigate challenges like medical costs, lack of engagement and productivity loss, but also facilitates an easier transition back to work.
  4. Nurturing a positive workplace: Research demonstrates management practices significantly influence the rate at which employees return to work after illness or injury.

By fostering a supportive environment, employees are more likely to return to work sooner and be more engaged in work once they’re back.

The benefits of providing early support for employees facing illness or injury extend across various aspects.

From staff retention to productivity enhancement and engagement improvement, prioritising employee wellbeing and facilitating a smooth return to work presents a strategic opportunity for employers.

Benefits of early support for captives

  1. Reduced claims durations: By providing early support, claims durations improve. The right support improves health outcomes before the complexities of long-term absences from work start to impact the customer.
  2. Reduced claims costs: With shorter claims durations come reduced claims costs. At AIA, we support customers back to work in the waiting period resulting in only paying for the occupational rehabilitation costs on the claim.
  3. Reduced premiums: By managing claims more effectively, there is a significant improvement in premiums.
  4. Sustainable Products: With reduced claims costs, product sustainability improves. This model really is a win for the employee, the employer and the captive.
12 August 2024
5-6 November 2025

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