This week is Work Safe Week, so we thought it would be a prime time to talk about some of the issues around dealing with clients who are returning to work after illness or injury.

It is now well established that being away from work for an extended period can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.  Loss of status and identity, as well as family pressures and financial strain, can all conspire to have a huge impact on one’s self-worth and process of recovery.
Here at Innovative Rehab, we’re passionate about encouraging purposeful activity and developing functional goals that support re-engagement in key life roles. For many patients, this involves some discussion about work.

As an Allied Health practitioner, there’s a whole range of considerations to take into account when planning for a return to work.
Let’s talk about some of the key issues:

Many people dealing with a work-related illness or injury are under the assumption that they need to be 100% recovered before they can successfully return to work, but this generally isn’t the case.  In fact, we now know that people who return to modified work duties as a first step are more likely to maintain a sustainable level of work functioning over the longer-term
Employers are obliged to provide alternative duties for injured workers at different stages of their recovery – and there are lots of incentives for new employers to give injured workers a go.  So while it doesn’t need to be at full capacity, discussions about work should be incorporated into the recovery process early – with a focus on what’s realistic and achievable at any given time.  

An individual’s confidence can be really shaken when they’re out of work due to illness or injury, and the longer the recovery process, the harder it can be to imagine getting back.  Not only does an injured worker have to deal with the physical and mental challenges of their condition, they are also isolated from friends, colleagues and the meaningful interactions common to everyday work life.
Research has shown that confidence is the most important factor in returning to work with chronic pain.  This means not just knowing pain management strategies but having a sense of how to apply these in a work context – including at busy times – and maintaining this sustainably over time.
Being realistic is the key here – talk with your client about what they can and can’t do, listen to their concerns about the demands of the work environment and explore options for overcoming obstacles.
It’s also really important to carefully pace the return to work process to avoid unwanted set-backs.

Getting your client’s workplace, GP, rehab provider and other treatment providers on board is absolutely crucial to successful return to work planning.  A case conference can be very helpful in facilitating this process.
The key here is in establishing stakeholder relationships and then working together as a team to understand the barriers (including the nature of chronic pain) and negotiate a realistic, graduated plan.
The graduated plan needs to be one that is:

  • Communicated clearly
  • Agreed to by all parties and
  • Reviewed (and amended, where needed) at regular intervals.

Once your patient is back at work, it’s important that together you regularly assess and monitor his/her condition – and continue to problem-solve any obstacles.
There are a number of self-assessment tools that can be very helpful here.  The Pain Self-Efficacy Questionnaire (PSEQ) is one of the most commonly used in Australia – scores of 40 and above have been linked to a sustainable return to work outcome.

KEEN TO KNOW MORE? All of these topics, and more, will be explored in our upcoming workshop on 9-10 November, where you can hear from our resident Return to Work experts Libby Colman (B OccThy) and Dr. Eli Chu (PhD), AccOT.
From 21-31 Oct, Work Safe Victoria will have over 100 free seminars and events taking place all over the state covering topics such as manual handling, return to work, health and wellbeing and plenty more.


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