Motivational mojo medicine

Gabrielle Lis

RTW motivation can be hard to muster...Unless you've had your dose of the RTWMatters motivational mojo!

RTW Motivational Mantra...
The motivated return-to-work-er is progressing towards a clear goal that they believe they are capable of reaching. They are flexible about when and how to get there, in line with a safe recovery from injury or illness.

The ebbs and flows of motivation are not as mysterious as they might at first appear. If a lack of RTW motivation is causing grief in your workplace, there are steps you can take to unleash that all-important motivational mojo!

Step 1: Create a supportive community around the worker.

Don't give pessimism time to develop. As soon as injury or illness occurs, involve union and employee health and safety reps, and let the worker know you're doing it. Send a card and encourage coworkers to express their concern and support as well. Remind senior management that a call from them may make a real difference to a worker's motivational levels. And get in touch with the treating practitioner early on too. Think of yourself as coordinating a supportive community focused on the worker's rehab and wellbeing: a personal cheer squad for recovery!

Step 2: Identify what the worker wants.

It makes sense that a person will be more motivated if they perceive themself to be working towards a desired goal: the trick here is to avoid the "one size fits all" approach to goal setting. When an injured or ill employee seems to lack "fire in the belly", instead of giving up on them as unmotivated assume that you haven’t yet figured out what lights their fire! In the rehab/return to work context, goals that might motivate individuals include:

  • A desire to return to full, physical function and activity;
  • The need to feel in control of their body and health situation;
  • Concern over their family;
  • Financial security;
  • A sense of achievement, of “beating” the illness or injury;
  • Support from the workplace community;
  • A sense that they are an important part of the team; and/or
  • Job security.
Step 3: Help them understand how rehab/RTW will make that goal more achievable.

Appropriate messages might include:

  • "A safe, early return to work is good for recovery."
  • "Sticking to your rehab plan and returning to work on modified duties is the best way to take control of your injury/illness."
  • "The most dependable way to take care of your family is to stay healthy, fit, and focused on recovery."
  • "Delayed return to work eventually results in reduced compensation payments. We want you back on full pay as soon as possible."
  • "Returning to full time work will be tiring at first, but you've been so determined up till now, I know you can do it."
  • "Everyone in the office has been asking about you. They really miss your humour."
  • "Our productivity has been down since you've been off work. You're such an efficient worker."
  • "We want you back in your full time position for the long haul."
Step 4: Intervene early if the worker sounds unduly pessimistic.

Keep an ear out for the tell-tale refrains of motivation-sapping pessimism, like:

  • "I can't do that, it hurts, and I don't want to injure myself more."
  • "I'll never get back to my old job."
  • "Things like this always happen to people like me."

We're not saying don't listen to the worker but be aware that while someone's perceptions of their illness or injury aren't always accurate, they do always impact on their rehab prospects. If a worker sounds very pessimistic about recovery, frequently expresses a belief that activity and pain will worsen their problem or has another kind of pessimistic refrain, then it might be a good idea to hook them up with an occupational/rehab psychologist. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be a very effective treatment for this kind of motivational difficulty.

Step 5: Develop a workplace culture that promotes motivation to rehabilitate and return to work.

In fact, this step precedes the others, because you can plant the seeds of motivation well before a workplace injury or illness actually occurs, by having a positive injury management culture. Ensure that:

  • Management are visibly on board and supportive of RTW;
  • Workers are educated in the importance of RTW; and
  • Worker input into injury management systems, OH&S and RTW is sought and valued.

The key here is to create an expectation that injured or ill workers get back into the workplace asap, and encourage individuals to feel confident that they can do so. Bear in mind that people who are used to having input, and seeing this input make a difference in how things happen in the workplace, are more likely to be assertive, motivated return-to-work-ers. And they're exactly the kind of workers we want!