Top ten things to avoid in RTW

Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Gabrielle Lis

Maximise the chances of great RTW outcomes by avoiding these bad boys.

1) Silence. Silence gets you nowhere fast in RTW. People aren’t mind readers: tell your employees you are there to support them and to do everything you can to accommodate their speedy, appropriate return to work; let doctors know about your workplace and what sort of jobs are available to the employee as they recover.  

2) Suspicion and disrespect. Sure, some claims will need to be investigated, but questioning injuries or illnesses as a reflex only indicates a lack of trust, something your employees will pick up on. Showing respect, listening and caring about the wellbeing of your employees is essential – from the very early stages and throughout the RTW process, fuelling a positive outcome.  

3) Delay. When workplace injury happens, deal with it. First and foremost, this is about ensuring the employee’s safety and wellbeing by organising appropriate medical care, as well as prompt injury reporting and follow up. What happens in the first five minutes after a workplace accident is crucial. Make the most of this time.  

4) Festering, unhealthy conflict. Workplace conflict is inevitable but it doesn’t have to jeopardise RTW. If conflict is a factor in someone’s work absence or claim, the sooner you intervene, the better.   

5) Wasting an opportunity to learn. There are lessons we can draw from every return to work story. Take the opportunity to think, What could we do differently so this accident/conflict/delay doesn’t happen next time?  

6) Letting employees drop off the radar. It’s one thing to be all ears when an illness or injury first arises, and it’s another to remain in touch with the employee throughout their rehabilitation journey. Staying in touch with the employee, letting them know they are missed and their job is still there for them when they can return, is worth its weight in gold.  

7) Bad modified duties. Picking the wrong kinds of duties might jeopardise a person’s ability to stay at work. Not offering modified duties where possible might make their return impossible. Having a non-progressive modified duties plan can leave people stuck at half-capacity in the workplace, besides being bad for morale. Appropriate, progressive modified duties are vital for durable RTW, and best achieved when the doctor and employee play an active role in planning for them.  

8) Isolating the worker. This can be avoided by making sure colleagues are on board and informed about the employee’s injury (within the boundaries of privacy) so they can support the returning worker and know the person isn’t “bludging” on modified duties. Colleagues who’ve been through similar injuries can also provide support. The other key to avoiding isolating the worker is by staying in touch all the way through the RTW process.  

9) Waiting for “complete recovery”. The idea that a worker can’t return until they’re “completely better” is often not the case, and can actually slow down return to work. With the right support, modified duties and medical advice, a worker can match increasing roles at work with their improving health.  

10) Keeping the doctor in the dark. A doctor who is well informed about a workplace and the roles available there is best placed to give accurate and helpful return to work advice. As an employer or return to work coordinator you are the best person to help the doctor gain that information. And make sure that the openness is mutual. Where possible, recommend communicative, RTW-savvy doctors to your employees: it can make all the difference.