Return to Work and the Importance of Good Communication

A workplace injury can have a significant impact on both the worker and the employer. The return to work process can trigger many questions and uncertainties for all parties involved, and particularly the injured worker. Results from studies conducted on workplace stress showed that poor communication between management and employees was associated with longer sickness absence duration and low return to work outcomes (Yarker et al., 2010; Jonasson et al., 2006). As such, communication plays a key role in a successful return to work.

Furthermore, since the return to work process is socially dynamic (Tjulin et al., 2011), greater success rates can be achieved when the supervisor plays an active role and keeps communication channels between him/herself, the injured worker, and colleagues open. This can be achieved by showing initiative and contacting the injured worker via the phone to enquire about their wellbeing. Explaining the return to work process can help reduce any uncertainties for the injured worker. On the other hand, asking about the injury and potential limitations can help the supervisor understand which duties he or she can make available in preparation for the employee’s return to work.
Even when the worker isn’t quite ready to return to work just yet, invite them to attend meetings, toolbox talks and social events like the Christmas party. This will make the injured employee feel included and a part of the team despite their current restrictions.
Ultimately, explicit communication leads to happier, more loyal employees, and supervisors tend to experience less stress allowing for a successful return to work, and an overall more positive work culture.

References:

  • Åsa Tjulin, Ellen Maceachen, Elinor Edvardsson Stiwne & Kerstin Ekberg (2011) The social interaction of return to work explored from co-workers experiences, Disability and Rehabilitation, 33:21-22, 1979-1989, DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2011.553708
  • Johansson G, Lundberg O, Lundberg I. Return to work and adjustment latitude among employees on long-term sickness absence. J Occup Rehab 2006;16:185–195.
  • Yarker, J., Munir, F., Bains, M., Kalawsky, K., & Haslam, C. (2010). The role of communication and support in return to work following cancer‐related absence. Psycho‐Oncology, 19(10), 1078-1085.

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