“Return-to-work rates have largely remained unchanged over the past 15 years yet the typical amount of time off work for serious workers’ compensation claims is increasing, particularly for workers experiencing psychological injury. So having a solid plan and support is fundamental,” says Thornton.

Supporting the return to work of an injured employee is an integral part of their recovery both physically and mentally. It demonstrates that employees are valued, that you are an employer who cares, and promotes a positive work culture. Research shows that good outcomes are far more likely when an employee is supported to work while recovering in the workplace following a period of injury or illness.

For employers, Thornton points to research showing that the timely appointment of a workplace rehabilitation provider (within the first eight weeks) can improve return to work rates by 3% to 5%. It also provides extra support to HR to effectively manage the process and help the employee deal with an injury. “It can assist with retaining – rather than losing – a skilled worker, and also help to control the costs of workplace injury,” says Thornton.

What makes a good workplace rehabilitation program?

Get the diagnosis right

Thornton says the first step is looking at how the injury is holistically impacting the person and what the symptoms are. Taking the time to get a clear clinical diagnosis will help all parties to understand what approach makes sense and to avoid friction points down the road.

Person-centred and realistic goals

“A person’s recovery is as unique as they are. Use a tailored person-centred approach to encourage and assist your worker to take an active role in their recovery. Ask about the parts of their job they feel they can do and the support they need,” says Thornton. For them to succeed, the goals need to be aligned to what is important to them and have personal meaning. Returning to work, although important, may not be their immediate focus. Going from zero to 100 in a short space of time is often not realistic and can result in setbacks.

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