6 simple apathy busters

Gabrielle Lis

Supervisors apathetic about RTW? You gotta bust that apathy ASAP!

Apathy is anathema to return to work, which requires energy, clear-thinking and a liberal dose of TLC. So what makes supervisors apathetic about it? And, more importantly, what can YOU do to make THEM feel inspired instead?

A good starting point is thinking about your own experiences of apathy. Apathy is a state of indifference, characterised by passive behaviour and a lack of engagement with the situation at hand. Ask yourself when you last felt apathetic. What led you to feel that way?

You might also want to consider when you last felt enthused and on fire about a project. What put you in that frame of mind? Chances are, contributing to your passion was a:

  • Knowledge of what was at stake;
  • Feeling that you had the skills, time and resources to get the job done;
  • Sense that other people were behind you, or on your side;
  • Expectation that something positive would come from meeting your goal; and
  • Awareness of the potential negative consequences should you not succeed.

Now all you need to do is imagine that you’re a supervisor dealing with RTW. Let’s say you’re struggling to feel motivated to manage RTW. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself…

“It’s not that important. Anyway, I don’t see what it has to do with me.”

Without enough relevant information, supervisors may struggle to understand why they should devote their time to managing RTW. Apathy may result from supervisors uninformed about:

  • The importance of their role;
  • The kinds of injuries / illness common to the workplace;
  • The costs of poorly managed or delayed RTW;
  • The role that suitable, progressive modified duties play in rehabilitation, as well as their impact on morale; and
  • The personal and broader social costs of mismanaged RTW, for example to the family of the absent worker.
Apathy Buster 1

Brief ALL your supervisors in the strategic importance of RTW and their central role in the process. Give them the facts and make sure they get the message that, with the exception of the injured employee, the supervisor has the greatest influence over RTW outcomes.
“That’s just not how we do things here.”

Unlike salmon, humans aren’t renowned for swimming against the stream. If no one else seems to care about a situation, we tend to think, then why should I? Poor injury management cultures can give even RTW-savvy supervisors that ol’ apathetic feeling. Apathy-inducing cultures include when:

  • There is an “us versus them” relationship between workers and the organisational hierarchy;
  • Senior management aren’t visibly engaged with or interested in injury management;
  • There is no commitment to the injury management policy and no clear procedures to follow;
  • The organisation perceives workers’ comp claims to be a threat and adopts a “take no prisoners” approach to injury reporting, claims’ investigations and lost time; or
  • The organisation has gone too far in the opposite direction, and workers know that they can take advantage of their employers’ lenience and lax attitude.
Apathy Buster 2

This can be a tough one! You’ll need to get senior management onside, by convincing them that investments in best practice RTW pay huge dividends. For more information, check out Making the case for best practice injury management  (see chapter 9.1) in our RTW handbook.

“There’s nothing I can do about it anyway.”

However passionate someone might be about making a difference, if they can’t figure out how to do so their enthusiasm is likely to dissipate pretty quickly. When supervisors have not received training to enable them to exert influence over RTW outcomes, they’re less likely to be engaged in the process.

Apathy Buster 3

Invest in supervisor training. Relevant training may include:

  • Active listening;
  • Conflict resolution; and
  • Participative ergonomics.

For most employees their supervisor will be the “face” of return to work, so people skills such as active listening and conflict resolution are often more important than practical skills such as ergonomics.

“I just don’t have time to deal with RTW now.”

Supervisors often have a lot on their plates, and RTW responsibilities – such as staying in touch with injured or ill employees, liaising with medical practitioners and organising modified duties – can seem like too much to ask in addition to all their other responsibilities. Often, “I’m too busy,” will be an organisation-wide problem, rather than a problem specific to particular supervisors.

Apathy Buster 4

A two pronged attack is the way to go here. Firstly, you need to bump RTW up the supervisor’s list of priorities to ensure that it doesn’t drop off the radar when things get hectic. This can be done by mandating regular RTW meetings and reporting. Secondly, you might need to discuss the problem of supervisors’ workload with management. If injury management is a priority, then it needs to be resourced appropriately.

“I’m slogging my guts out and there’s no recognition.”

Most people find it easiest to maintain enthusiasm when they perceive themselves to be working towards something, be it praise or positive feedback from someone they respect, monetary reward, a promotion, or the simple self-satisfaction of a job well done. When there are no incentives to stay switched on, apathy can easily gain a foothold.

Apathy Buster 5

Simple: provide incentives for supervisors to stay focused on RTW. Incentives might range from providing personal positive feedback, to recognising and acknowledging RTW achievements in the organisation’s newsletter or at meetings, to linking bonuses to injury management stats. Having something to aim for is a great motivator.

“I can get away with ignoring RTW. No one important will even notice.”

Let’s be honest: we often struggle to motivate ourselves when there are no clear consequences associated with a failure to get the job done. If someone sees that they can get away with slacking off, why would they bother to behave differently?

Apathy Buster 6

Again, it’s pretty simple: make sure there are predictable, negative consequences associated with the neglect of RTW. Supervisors need to be accountable for their team’s RTW performance. KPIs may play a role in this and the organisation’s injury management policy should also clearly outline the action that will be taken when supervisors drop the RTW ball.