4: Return to work
Ensuring a successful return-to-work
The following elements can facilitate a timely return to work after illness or injury:
- Development of a policy: It is advisable for employers to develop a policy that is integrated into OSH, sickness absence management and policies. The policy can set out details concerning, for example, the roles and responsibilities of the actors involved, procedures around communication arrangements with the worker, and workplace adaptation measures.
- Take measures early in the process: The chances of successful return to work are far greater when measures are taken at the beginning of the absence period. The focus should be on accommodating workers’ health problems so that they can return to work as soon as possible.
- Individualised solutions: Measures to reintegrate the worker should be tailored to his/her needs and abilities rather than ‘one-size-fits-all’. Reduced hours, adapted workstations, adjusting work demands, should all be designed according to what the individual can do.
- Focus on capacity rather than incapacity: While work capacity may have changed, it is more useful to keep the focus on the person’s remaining skills and abilities, and re-design their role around that.
- Comprehensive measures: interventions should consider the bigger picture. Everything from conditions in the workplace to social and personal factors should be taken into account (e.g. travel burden associated with treatments, level of cooperation among work colleagues, etc.).
- Communication and shared objective: A good process involves various people, from the worker, employer, HR and OSH advisor, to the treating physician, social insurer, and training institute. Despite having different responsibilities in the process, everyone needs to share the common objective of a quick and effective sustainable return to work.
For employees who have been absent for 4 weeks or more, further help can be obtained from the Fit for Work Service in England and Wales or Scotland.