Demographic Change and Private Sector Disability Management in Australia, Canada, China and Switzerland: a Comparative Study

What factors influence a private company’s choice to implement a Disability Management Program and what are the perceived benefits/drawbacks of such a program?

Project Summary

Prosperity and welfare in modern societies are highly dependent on educated and qualified workers. In recent years, demographic change and increasing shortage of qualified workers have presented new challenges for both developed and developing economies. Strategies to face these challenges include increased company activity to retain internal labour markets. Disability management (DM) has been established worldwide as a valuable approach not only to improve return-to-work programmes and thereby retaining employees but also to improve working conditions and organisational development. Particularly, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Forum for Disability Management (IFDM), see DM as crucial to supporting workers whose employment is threatened by illness or accident and bringing people back to work. However, despite the widespread adoption of DM, comparative international research among private companies in this area is minimal. Australia, Canada, China and Switzerland were chosen to ensure heterogeneous sample that will allow an analysis of the impact of different welfare systems for DM. The three following questions are guiding this research :

  • What factors influence a private company’s choice to implement a DM Program?
  • What are the perceived benefits/drawbacks of a DM Program?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of the current DM systems?

The project will employ a mixed-methods multi-level approach, including both case-study methodology and survey-based data collection. Within each of our four participant countries (Australia, Canada, China, Switzerland), we will have a responsible research sub-team that will take primary responsibility for collecting the data in their own country. This project replies to an urgent need to improve knowledge about the implementation and impact of DM in private companies in order to ensure the ongoing development of practice.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Prosperity and welfare in modern societies are highly dependent on educated and qualified workers. In recent years, demographic change and a growing shortage of qualified workers have presented new challenges for both developed and developing economies. Strategies to face these challenges include increased company activity to retain internal labour forces and, specifically, disability management. Disability management (DM) has been established worldwide as a valuable approach, not only to improving return-to-work (RTW) programs and thereby retaining employees but also to enhancing working conditions and organizational development. Key stakeholders such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Forum for Disability Management (IFDM), view DM as crucial to supporting workers whose employment is threatened by illness or accident, and also to bringing injured employees back to work.

Executive Summary

The objectives of this study were to establish baseline data for how disability management is implemented in companies in different countries, how national systems influence the implementation of DM, and how that benefits employers and employees. Thirty-two companies in Australia, Canada, China and Switzerland participated, 128 in-depth interviews were conducted and 1,201 employees participated in the survey.

Research Team

Thomas Geisen 
Coordinator
Fachhochschule Nord-West Schweiz

Guy Ochsenbein
Co-Coordinator
Fachhochschule Nord-West Schweiz

Benedikt Hassler
Principal Member
Fachhochschule Nord-West Schweiz

Nicholas Buys
Principal Member
Griffith University

Christine Randall
Principal Member
Griffith University
Henry Harder
Principal Member
University of Northern British Columbia

Shannon Wagner
Principal Member
University of Northern British Columbia

Liz Scott
Principal Member
Senior Health, Safety and Disability Management Executive

Ignatius Yu Tak-Sun
Principal Member
Head of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health and Associate Director

Karen Yu Ling Lo-Hui
Principal Member
Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Worker’s Health Center (HKWHC)

Tang Dan
Principal Member
Director of Guangdong Provincial Work Injury Rehabilitation Center
Barbara Murray
Associated Member
Senior Specialist Disability