Top ten tips for super smooth supervising of RTW

Gabrielle Lis

Supervising return to work ain't easy...unless you've read our latest top ten!
  1. The first conversation is vital.  What you do at the time of injury – before the employee has even left the workplace – has a huge impact on how the whole RTW process plays out. Always acknowledge the injury or problem, ask for the employee's input, and be proactive about encouraging medical care where appropriate. Don’t play the blame game. Instead, focus on what the organisation can do to help the worker.
  2. Recognise the importance of your role.  An employee's supervisor has the greatest impact on whether they return to work: more than the doctor and the insurer, more even than the actual health condition!  When you take ownership of the process, you’re better able to encourage good outcomes for the worker and the organisation – and you’re also likely to see an improvement in your own KPIs.
  3. Get the facts. Develop an understanding of the worker's problem, needs and beliefs about their situation early.  Working with the employee gets the best results, and if they trust your approach you are half the way there.
  4. Stay in contact while the employee is still off work. If someone feels like they’ve lost touch with their colleagues while they are injured or ill, the transition back to work is harder. You don’t have to be intrusive, but sending a card from the whole team or calling to ask how they’re going lets absent employees know that they are valued and missed - and that's good for motivation.
  5. Be collaborative. Modified duties can be difficult for a supervisor to coordinate.  The best way to prevent a person staying on long term modified duties is to have their trust, work with them to modify the way the job is done, and ensure that the employee knows they are an important part of the team.  The goal is to keep them contributing productively. Make sure that unions and doctors also recognise that you have the employee’s best interests at heart.
  6. Understand employee expectations. Employees expect a lot from their supervisor when they are injured at work.  They expect you to help them along the way and be their primary conduit for communication with the company, talk to their doctor, identify possible job modifications and support them in all sorts of emotional ways. You might think that some of these expectations are unrealistic, but the alternative hassles are also considerable: long-term modified duties, drawn-out claims and ‘bad blood’ between you and your team.
  7. Ask your company to provide training.  You’ve got a pivotal role in RTW and if your company wants the best results, investing in training is a must. The key skills are learnable: active listening, conflict resolution, how to deal with complex cases, ergonomics in the workplace, and when and how to ask for assistance. Training will give you the skills you need to achieve safe, fast and durable RTW.
  8. Touch base regularly once the worker has returned to work and encourage co-workers to be supportive too. This helps ensure that modified duties remain appropriate and enables you to deal with problems as they arise. Be aware that returning to work can be stressful, even result in depression. Having a supportive work team and a supervisor who stays in touch is key to making the transition as smooth as possible.
  9. Learn to manage conflict. Nothing derails return to work faster than interpersonal problems in the workplace. Sometimes, workers won’t get along with each other, and sometimes they won’t get along with you. Studies have shown that supervisors tend to underestimate conflict in the workplace, especially when they’re involved. Learning to recognise and manage conflict in a constructive way is vital for supervising successful RTW.
  10. Seek help when you need it. Supervising RTW can be a tough job and you won’t always be able to go it alone. Don’t be afraid to put up your hand and ask for help when appropriate. The organisation will benefit in the long run. And while RTW is very important, it’s not worth losing your sanity over!