10:50 pm August 22, 2018

Returning to Work After an Injury: 5 Tips for Faster Results

Source: Brian Boyle

You have likely heard the saying, “Time is money!” in workplace injury prevention.  If this the case, why do so many employers make it difficult to return an injured employee back to work and stretch out the time? Having policies such as “no light duty” or “we only allow an employee to come back to work when they are completely released,” not only do more harm than good, but are also likely losing even more money. But did you know a lack of return to work options is not the number one cost driver in workers’ compensation claims management? Are you surprised? Indeed, the number one stumbling blocks to successful outcomes in workers’ compensation claims management are psychosocial issues and comorbidities.

The most common psychosocial and other issues an injured employee may deal with include obesity, hard feelings about coworkers, troubled home life, the lack of temporary modified work assignments, limited English proficiency and – most commonly noted – poor coping skills. Additionally, being out of work can lead to problems such as increased smoking, alcohol abuse, illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior. Suicide rates have also been observed to increase by a factor of six the longer an injured employee is out of work.1

The good news is that there are companies who are very successful in returning employees to work with great outcomes after an injury. To find out what the most successful companies are doing with their injured employees, we looked at a recent data review2 of best practices for claims management firms. Of those with the best outcomes for successfully returning injured employees back to work, all have shifted away from an adversarial model to one of advocacy where they treat the injured worker as a whole person.

In these companies, rather than erring on the side of suspicion, they manage the injured person using “soft skills” such as compassion and empathy. Their case managers actively listen and engage with the employee and let them know what is happening every step of the way. In fact, these companies recognize that adversarial or compliance driven models not only waste money but are ill-suited for addressing fears, beliefs, perceptions and poor coping skills among injured workers.

Okay, now say you as an employer have worked on company culture, you care for the employee and they know what is happening every step of the way.  Does time away from work really matter? Absolutely! In fact, there is strong evidence showing that the longer an employee is away from work, the less likely they are to return to work. Meaning that the longer a claim is open and the employee is out, the lower the chances of ever successfully returning that employee back to work.

So just how long is a “long time?” Statistically speaking, after only four weeks of being away after an injury, 1 out of every 5 employees will not return to work. After six months, that number is even higher, with 4 of those 5 injured employees never returning to work.3

So what as an employer can you do to increase the chances of successfully returning your injured employees back to work quickly and safely?

  • Only work with claims companies whose adjusters follow best practices treating the entire worker and who embrace the advocacy role
  • Remove barriers to return to work within your organization. Even if light duty work is not something which is regularly offered, find other ways to bring a skilled employee back to the workforce. Could you have the employee help train new or lesser skilled employees? Can the employee help teach in new hire orientation? How is the employee able to assist with process improvement projects? This may require some thought, but if this employee truly is an asset to your organization then why wouldn’t you treat them as such?
  • Find ways to reduce the sick role4 being taken on by the employee and provide access to specialists who deal in cognitive behavioral or talk, therapy
  • Actively engage with employees who are injured and take steps to ensure they feel included in work activities and remain part of the company culture
  • Work with medical providers who are familiar with your organization and clearly understand the functional outcomes expected to return the employee to full duty within the company

While not every employee will return to work after an injury, your company will certainly be more successful and increase the odds by following best practices. You will also likely have a happier employee who is more willing to return to work and continue to perform at a high level of productivity.

For help in setting up a program like this, an onsite therapist is a great resource and can provide detailed instruction on how to assist in returning employees back to work safely and quickly.  Contact WorkWell today for more information.

1 Jin R et al. The impact of unemployment on health: a review of the evidence. Can Med Assoc. J. 1995 153
2 https://www.risingms.com/research-knowledge/workers-compensation-benchmarking-study/overcoming-psychosocial-roadblocks-claims-advocacys-biggest-opportunity/
3 http://www.honeydew-health.com/scary-stats-return-to-work/
4 http://sociologyinfocus.com/2012/12/the-sick-role-conflict/

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