Research has shown that the return to work process and rehabilitation are more effective if closely linked, or located in the workplace. Policies, procedures and workplace culture are also extremely important and there is strong evidence that health and safety policies and procedures can be cost-effective and may reduce sickness absence by between 20-60%.
Early intervention and communication make a significant difference too. Studies have proven that early treatment results in a faster return to work, less doctor visits and fewer restricted workdays.
We also know that contact between healthcare providers and the workplace significantly reduces the length of time off work. Therefore employers need to have a person who coordinates the return to work program. This person typically:
- provides individual planning and coordination adapted to the worker’s initial and on-going needs
- ensures communication remains open between all parties
- ensures the worker and other players understand what to expect and what is expected of them.
This is often where the direct supervisor comes in to aid or co-ordinate the return to work program. It’s important that supervisors are supported, have an awareness of workplace disability prevention and the far reaching benefits of a safe workplace and employee wellbeing.
MINING COMPANIES TAKING THE INITIATIVE
At a recent WorkCover Queensland mining forum various mining company representatives discussed the role of supervisors in the return to work process in their organisation. Some notable activities included:
- The development of a front line supervisor program to improve understanding and show the human face of the organisation. It has shown that employees are more amenable to returning to work.
- Supervisors challenging workers when appropriate if something looks out of place. This has helped in a number of areas such as the absentee management process.
- A “straight talk” program for discussions with employees. All discussions supervisors have with employees are to be based on facts rather than emotions and clearly identify any concerns or current issues.
SUPERVISORS’ BEST PRACTICE
There are lots of effective ways to ensure both the employee and the supervisor are supported during the return to work process. It’s important that a supervisor:
- is proactive
- communicates openly
- listens to the individual’s concerns
- understands the individual may still be unwell even if they’re back at work
- has an open-door policy
- adapts their approach to the individual
- allows the individual to maintain a certain level of normality
- is quick to respond to the individual
- takes responsibility for the individual’s rehabilitation
- acknowledges the impact of the individual’s illness
- remains positive with the individual.
It’s also important that supervisors don’t:
- lose patience with the individual
- display aggressive actions
- question the individual’s every move
- go against the individual’s requests for work adjustments
- make the individual feel like a nuisance.
“Studies have proven that early treatment results in a faster return to work, less doctor visits and fewer restricted workdays”.