Actively rehabilitating injured or ill employees back into work reaps rewards

Understanding the ROI of early intervention in the workplace

Actively rehabilitating injured or ill employees back into work reaps rewards

More than half a million Australians sustain a work-related injury or illness each year at an estimated cost of $61.8 billion, according to Safe Work Australia. This impacts the health system, the economy and society in a multitude of ways including loss of productivity, income and quality of life.

Early intervention however can save business a lot of money. The Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association has estimated that the ROI for every $1 invested in early intervention is $75. Employers are obliged to help injured employees continue to work or return to work, as part of their recovery from injury or illness. As part of their recovery, an employer must draw up a Return-to-work’ plan which will detail the rehabilitation process supported by the business.

Renee Thornton, General Manager of Rehab Management, a leading corporate health provider, says workplace rehabilitation is beneficial to both the injured worker and the employer.

“Return to work rates have largely remained unchanged over the past 15 years yet the typical amount of time off work for serious workers’ compensation claims is increasing, particularly for workers experiencing psychological injury. So having a solid plan and support is fundamental,” says Thornton.

Supporting the return to work of an injured employee is an integral part of their recovery both physically and mentally. It demonstrates that employees are valued, that you are an employer who cares, and promotes a positive work culture. Research shows that good outcomes are far more likely when an employee is supported to work while recovering in the workplace following a period of injury or illness.

For employers, Thornton points to research showing that the timely appointment of a workplace rehabilitation provider (within the first eight weeks) can improve return to work rates by 3% to 5%. It also provides extra support to HR to effectively manage the process and help the employee deal with an injury. “It can assist with retaining – rather than losing – a skilled worker, and also help to control the costs of workplace injury,” says Thornton.

What makes a good workplace rehabilitation program?

Get the diagnosis right

Thornton says the first step is looking at how the injury is holistically impacting the person and what the symptoms are. Taking the time to get a clear clinical diagnosis will help all parties to understand what approach makes sense and to avoid friction points down the road.

Person-centred and realistic goals

“A person’s recovery is as unique as they are. Use a tailored person-centred approach to encourage and assist your worker to take an active role in their recovery. Ask about the parts of their job they feel they can do and the support they need,” says Thornton. For them to succeed, the goals need to be aligned to what is important to them and have personal meaning. Returning to work, although important, may not be their immediate focus. Going from zero to 100 in a short space of time is often not realistic and can result in setbacks.

Engage all stakeholders throughout the process

A collaborative return to work process leads to the best outcomes for everyone and minimises setbacks. A good rehab provider will negotiate and work towards ensuring everyone is onboard with the agreed goals that are relevant to the person and their diagnosis. They will communicate with all stakeholders through the journey as things progress or change. In addition to the worker and employer, stakeholders may include doctors, specialists, psychologists and other health professionals.

Measure and monitor

A written plan developed in collaboration significantly improves the likelihood of successful return to work following injury. In the early stage of a claim, this increases the likelihood of return to work by 1.7 times, and by 3.4 times after 30 days. All stakeholders should have a copy of the agreed plan and the information should be tailored so that everyone understands the work they will do and any support required. It should include timeframes for reviewing progress and amended accordingly if recovery is quicker or slower than expected.

“A good workplace rehabilitation provider will act like a music conductor – keeping everyone on track and playing their different parts appropriately.

“They can educate employers on what is reasonable in the circumstances, the clinical diagnosis and how to best support their worker. They will also reassure workers about the process and put a support team around them with the right clinicians. In the end, it’s all about achieving timely and sustainable return to work outcomes,” says Thornton.

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