Research Updates

Gabrielle Lis



One of our most popular contributors, Gabrielle used her writing talents to develop easy to read content.  Her articles are clear, practical and full of creative flair, providing an easily digestible and enjoyable way to keep best practices front of mind.

Gabrielle Lis joined Return to Work Matters in October 2008, while in the throes of the final months of an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne. Gabrielle was an assistant editor at RTWMatters until 2011, where she was able to combine her professional passions: writing and public policy advocacy.

Gabrielle returned to the team in 2016, once again keeping us up to date with her clear and informative articles, as well as coordinating the newsletter.

Articles by ‘Gabrielle Lis’
Pain Reprocessing Therapy can resolve chronic back pain

For people with chronic back pain, psychological treatment that tackles unhelpful beliefs about the causes and dangers of pain substantially and durably reduces pain – and changes the brain.

Workplace interventions to prevent sedentary pain

Are inflating and deflating “smart seats” the cure for back and neck pain amongst sedentary office workers? Or are active breaks a better bet?

Back pain RTW delayed by poor mental health

Depression and anxiety delay sustained RTW for workers with work-related musculoskeletal disorders. New mental health problems lead to larger delays than pre-existing problems – and men are more...

Failure to implement

Workplace health and wellbeing programs almost always sound great in theory, but often come unstuck during implementation. Researchers analysed 74 studies to see where organisations typically go...

Migraines: Workplace costs

Migraines are a significant cause of presenteeism, according to research from Japan, with sufferers reporting feeling misunderstood and guilty at work.

Will IT cause chronic health problems?

Sedentary work and screen time leisure sound warning bells for the future health of the growing information technology (IT) workforce.

Expectations impact sickness absence after carpal tunnel surgery

Worker's pre-surgery expectations about the timing of RTW influence the duration of sickness absence after carpal tunnel release.

Moving away from LBP

People with chronic, non specific low back pain may benefit from treatment that identifies and alters personal patterns of movement and posture that inadvertently contribute to pain.

Measuring the fairness of IMEs

In a world first, researchers have launched the Basel Fairness Questionnaire (BFQ), a survey that assesses claimant perceptions of the fairness of medical assessments in compensation systems.

Treatment guidelines reduce LBP risk

Following international treatment guidelines reduces the risk of transition from short to long term lower back pain but in the US, 50% of LBP patients receive at least one form of sub par care.

Comparing LBP prevention approaches

Fixing the workplace or fixing the person: which is a more effective way to prevent lower back pain?

Evidence moves on frozen shoulder treatment

After rigorously comparing all the relevant, good quality evidence available in 2020, a team of orthopaedics researchers have recommended IA cortisone as the treatment of choice for patients with...

Common knee surgery usually unhelpful, may be harmful

Evidence accumulates against arthroscopic partial meniscectomy, a common surgical procedure intended to reduce knee pain and improve function in middle to older aged patients.

Sobering news about fibromyalgia treatments

Common treatments for fibromyalgia lack a strong evidence base but exercise and antidepressants warrant further research.

Call centre workers tired of faking it

Feeling one way and having to act another is a hallmark of call centre work. The resulting emotional exhaustion has implications not only for the health and work satisfaction of call centre...

What hurts worse, trauma or workplace insensitivity?

For ambulance workers, mental health issues result not just from exposure to traumatic events, but from more mundane workplace stressors including the way managers respond to their distress.

NSW success story of early intervention

Research from NSW shows that early intervention saves money and improves health when it's carefully managed and overseen. Are employers and workers' compensation authorities ready to meet the...

Orebro in the real world

A risk assessment tool that ordinary, under-pressure case managers can use.

Predicting – without overtreating – chronic LBP

A screening tool developed in Australia could help workers’ compensation systems and treating practitioners better target early intervention initiatives for workers with lower back pain.

Motivational interviewing and RTW

Motivational interviewing is very beneficial, according to injured workers who need practical help or more information about navigating workers' compensation systems. However, workers who are...

Should workers disclose mental illness at work?

Disclosing a mental illness has potential benefits (increased understanding, improved support) but it also brings real risk in the form of stigma and discrimination. Dutch research tackles the...

Non-invasive, drug-free, durable treatments for chronic pain: what works?

Exercise is effective in reducing pain and improving function with many types of chronic pain – but other non-surgical, drug-free therapies can help too, including some mind-body practices.

You can’t manage psychosocial risk if you don’t recognise it

Managers focused on workers' bad attitudes may miss opportunities to control the organisational psychosocial hazards that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and stress-related mental health...

What types of work cause osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a top-ten cause of disability worldwide. With an ageing workforce, employers are likely to see more claims relating to this degenerative joint disease. A new systematic review...

Collaborative supervisors block bullying

More than half of FIFO workers report bullying at work, which triples worker-reported suicide risk and more than doubles the risk of clinical depression - but collaborative supervisors reduce risk.

Work demands, work ability and MSDs

Work that places strain on the lower back reduces work ability more than other types of physical demands; and multiple physical demands cause problems too.

We need better workplace interventions for common mental disorders

Tackle the psychosocial work environment if you want to see higher productivity, less sickness absence and timely, durable RTW for workers with CMDs such as depression and anxiety, say Swedish...

Evidence-based treatment for combined depression and anxiety

Anxiety and depression commonly go together but can be daunting to treat. A Dutch depression expert wants us to take heart: by treating one condition you often reduce symptoms of both.

SME employers and RTW after cancer

Caring, off-the-cuff and worried about finances: how SMEs manage cancer-related sickness absence and RTW.

Digging up trouble

Macho workplace cultures and frictional compensation systems yield financial and emotional stress for miners with back injuries.

How to reduce lost time due to shoulder injuries

Around a quarter of work absence due to shoulder injury could be prevented if organisations better managed the risks of long-term exposure to heavy, physical work.

Returning to work after stroke

Stroke is becoming more common in working age individuals. How likely is RTW, and what sorts of supports are needed?

And the support goes to…?

Supportive employers see more RTW. Now Australian research has identified what influences the amount of support on offer.

Psychological V Musculoskeletal: an unfair race

Workers with psychological injuries have worse experiences of the RTW process than those with musculoskeletal injuries.

Dying for more job control

Large Australian study links low job control to higher mortality risk.

Healthcare workers, violence and RTW

Violence can lead to a complex combination of physical and psychological injury. Workers who suffer a violent workplace injury have a different RTW trajectory than those who haven't. Some will...

Mean streets take toll on taxi drivers

High levels of mental exertion depression are rife amongst taxi drivers, but greater workplace support and civility might help ease the strain.

Clearing the air at work

Can workplace interventions ease occupational asthma? Are there benefits to reducing risk factors at work, or is eliminating exposure the only safe bet?

Work injury and deaths of despair

Research from the US confirms a connection between work absences of more than a week and deaths from drug overdose and suicide.

Knee osteoarthritis, age and heavy lifting

Does working as an airport baggage handler for twenty years increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis, or is aging the real culprit?

Less mental illness, more flourishing at work

Can interventions that target the psychosocial work environment reduce mental illness AND contribute to flourishing mental health?

Experiments in workers’ compensation

In Minnesota, USA, an alternative workers compensation scheme has reduced conflict amongst stakeholders and lowered time off work.

Targeted learning eases job strain in the ICU

A 5-day intervention for ICU nurses in France establishes that individual workers can learn to cope better with stressful and demanding work.

RTW-land has a social capital

Teams built on trust and cooperation - i.e. teams with high social capital - have less long term sick leave than teams in which suspicion and unfairness are the norm.

Mining the resources that prevent chronic LBP

Good mental health, social support at work and home, and job satisfaction protect against persistent low back pain.

What's behind presenteeism?

Research identifies four productivity-sappers that can lead to presenteeism: job characteristics, physical health, mental health and lack of support from the workplace. Can you pick the most...

Driving back to work (and stopping on the way)

Failed RTW is more likely after a traffic accident causing whiplash than other injuries. What else predicts an unsuccessful first attempt to get back to work?

Stress treatment program speeds up RTW

With cooperation between the therapist and the workplace, caring, individualised treatment for people with long-term work-stress speeds up RTW – and GPs may be able to adapt the approach

Angry nurses have more MSDs - and there's a link to social demands / support

Nurses who think they offer their colleagues more support than they get in return are more likely to be angry, and develop an MSD, than those who describe a fair balance.

Interventions with workplace contact reduce stress absence

Contact with the workplace has proven benefits for workers with stress, depression and other common mental health conditions, especially when part of a multi-component workplace intervention.

Less LBP pain and more function with early RTW

Health practitioners and employers take note: with appropriate support and appropriate duties, workers with LBP have less pain and better function when there’s a quick – even immediate – return to...

After amputation, who might struggle to RTW?

Returning to work after the amputation of a leg or foot takes time. Older workers struggle more, as do those who report lower quality of life. Amputation point matters too.

Mirror, mirror

“Who’s the fairest?” matters to compensation recipients. Researchers find associations between reduced adversarialism, greater perceived fairness and better health.

Accommodating arthritis for men and women

Workers with arthritis are offered accommodations at work but around 40% still don’t get what they need, according to research from Canada. Does gender help predict who’s likely to miss...

Delay feeds delay

Early reporting and prompt claim adjudication and payment may reduce the number of workers who have prolonged absence after injury, while delays are a red flag.

Hospital, union collaborate on good RTW medicine

Employer, union collaboration on disability management policy and RTW planning leads to 50% drop in time lost to injury at a large Canadian healthcare organisation.

The emotional demands of case management

Researchers take us to the struggling heart of case management, via focus groups with Australian case managers.

Protective powers of supervisor safety support

Worker survey says supervisors act as a safety net when other aspects of the working environment increase vulnerability to injury.

Works often but not always: a closer look at participatory ergonomics

Not all participatory ergonomics programs are created equal, Professor Robin Burgess-Limerick tells RTWMatters. So what works, and what doesn’t?

For injured workers, are insurers the rock and treaters the hard place?

Workers view insurer / healthcare provider relationships as adversarial and hamstrung – but they also have clear ideas for improvement…

Geography of RTW and mental health

Do workers in some Australian jurisdictions take more time off work for a mental health claim than others? If so, why?

Healing or harming?

Workers across the world describe similar worries, frustrations and difficulties with the health professionals who treat work injury, in a review of the evidence by Australian researchers.

Questioning the impact of compensation stress on health

What aspects of compensation systems cause stress? How common is it? Does compensation-related stress negatively impact health status? Does predisposition to stress matter?

Reforming risky systems

American researchers think we can design worker’s compensation systems that promote occupational health and safety and improve the wellbeing of injured workers – but stakeholders say that, like...

Copycat, absent

A small proportion of employees imitate co-worker absence. Chucking a sickie is less appealing when the work team has strong social ties, and team members rely on each other to get the job done.

Low-stress interactions matter more for longer-term claimants

What’s more important for durable RTW: RTW planning or the stressfulness of interactions between RTW Coordinators and injured workers? The answer depends on when you’re asking…

Mindfulness intervention helps call centre workers

Stressed-out call centre workers see persistent benefits from an 8-week meditation program - especially when they meditate with workmates.

Relaxation saves sleep from rude supervisors and co-workers

Workplace incivility and poorer sleep go hand in hand - unless you know how to switch off from work and relax. Good to know - and to share with injured workers...

Sleep, burnout and RTW

For employees with burnout, recovery and return to work is possible. What role does sleep play?

Brief psychosocial screeners trump GPs and physios

Psychosocial risk factors better predict delayed recovery than do injury characteristics. How should we assess risk: via brief assessment tools or the observations of health professionals?

Out-muscle depression with resistance exercise

Exercises that build muscle and power also reduce symptoms of depression. You do not need to bulk up to feel the benefits.

Introducing ROSES

In the search to find a screening tool to assist workers with MSDs and common mental health problems, will an Orebro by any other name smell as sweet?

Work-family conflict hurts kids

Authoritative Australian research shows that the mental health of children suffers when parents experience work-family conflict, with persistent ill-effects.

Can mind body treatments cure chronic pain?

New approaches have promise, but it is too soon to tell sufferers that a pain-free life is on the horizon.

Mental health and wellbeing costs of FIFO for workers, families

Fly in fly out workers and their partners struggle to reconcile working life and home life, while feeling a lack of support from family, employers and wider community.

Childhood adversity at work

Adverse childhood experiences impact performance at work and are likely to impact recovery from work injury. How can we help?

The test you do not want to ACE

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are common, and can wreak havoc on physical and psychological health in adulthood. What is the impact at work?

Preventing chronic MSDs

The right kind of vocational rehabilitation can stave off the transition to chronic disability. What influences the success of vocational rehabilitation programs for workers with long-term...

The downside of accommodation

A look at the challenges faced by supervisors obliged to oversee modified duties in a workplace under stress

Jargon busters

Researchers are worried that medical mumbo jumbo hurts recovery. What happens when medical reports are rewritten in easy-to-understand, reassuring ways?

Flexible workers or flexible work?

Choice and control is good for worker health, according to a review of the research on workplace flexibility.

Work hours = health risk?

Working more than 39 hours per week negatively impacts mental health; as do very short working hours. Generally, women have a lower threshold than men.

Support or confrontation?

Supervisors discuss whether support is enough to keep workers with MSDs at work, or whether a confrontational approach is sometimes necessary.

Rethinking injury and unfairness

Why do some people focus on the injustice of their injury while others move on with equanimity? Researchers have uncovered strong relationships between perceptions of injustice, feeling that...

Profile: Supervisors who support modified duties

Supervisors who show concern and respect for workers, who have the autonomy to make decisions about job modifications, and who rate their organisation highly in terms of disability management are...

What helps depressed workers stay at work?

Workplace interventions, CBT and stretching can all reduce sick leave amongst workers with depression - but other interventions are less successful.

An intervention for low back pain that works

Evidence-based! Cost-effective! Proactive! Popular! You will love this new workplace intervention for high-risk workers with low back pain.

Tick, tick, tick

The more time that elapses before low back injury is reported and treated, and the longer someone waits before taking time off work, the longer the eventual period of work disability.

Twins in pain?

Negative ideas about pain can derail recovery and return to work, causing immense frustration for RTW professionals. Why do some people take pain in their stride while others catastrophise? Twin...

Going backwards on mental health

Australian organisations are missing out on many opportunities to promote and support good mental health at work. According to a Superfriend survey 2016 was worse than 2015. Are business owners...

Do workplace interventions improve RTW outcomes?

Workplace interventions are effective for workers with musculoskeletal disorders, but the picture becomes more complex for workers with mental health issues and other health conditions like cancer.

What do employers think of GPs?

Workers compensation systems rely on collaboration between stakeholders to achieve good outcomes. Australian research shows that suspicion outweighs collaboration when employers talk about GPs.

Corralling the research on cancer and RTW

The evidence-based low-down on a problem many Australians will face: returning to work after surviving cancer.

We need to talk about GPs

According to Canadian researchers the responsibilities of GPs in relation to workers compensation and RTW are unclear, leading to conflict and disengagement. They only fix they see? Dialogue...

Q: Are psychosocial interventions effective treatments for chronic pain?

A: CBT, ACT and mindfulness therapies can help people remain active and cope with chronic pain, but do not cure it. Other psychosocial interventions are not supported by research, although this...

(Mis)managing mental health claims in Australia

GPs, injured workers, employers and insurers weigh in on the difficulties of managing mental health claims.

Snapshot: Sickness certification by Australian GPs

Eight years of data from the Victorian workers compensation system reveals that GP certification practices are strongly influenced by injury type.

Stakeholders explain GP sickness certification practices

Patient advocacy, workplace conflict, social circumstances and fee structures all influence sickness certification, according to GPs, injured workers, employers and compensation agents.

Trends in GP sickness certification

GPs issue more unfit for work certificates every year, according to research from Victoria, Australia.

Does RTW training for physios improve outcomes?

RTW training for physiotherapists changes physical and mental health outcomes but not RTW outcomes, according to preliminary research from Victoria.

RTW snakes and ladders

Physiotherapists and claims managers weigh in on what helps injured workers get over the RTW finish line and what sends them backwards.

Working for wellness

On the job rehabilitation can improve outcomes for people with psychiatric disabilities.

RTW Coordinators on RTW Coordinators

From the horse's mouth: Skillful communication, negotiation, problem solving and workplace knowledge are more important than medical or technical insights.

Early intervention: Risky business?

Early intervention programs for lower back pain aim to keep workers in the workplace. How can you ensure that yours is a success?

Is there a place for therapeutic RTW?

A comparison of train-before-placing and place-before-training models demonstrates that on the job rehabilitation can improve outcomes for people with psychiatric disabilities.