Returning to work after an Injury or Illness—with a team of support

By Georgia Cooper


When an employee is away from work due to an injury or illness, there are many contributing factors ultimately affecting their well-being and behaviours. These include, but are not limited to, medical, economic, social and emotional factors.

Their inability to work may lead to secondary depression or other psychological concerns as they lose their regular routine, miss out on engaging in meaningful relationships in the workplace, reduction in self-efficacy and disengage from hobbies and activities. These employees may have also faced financial hardships and a general feeling of identity loss during their absence from the workplace.

Likewise, when an employee returns to work after an injury or illness, they face new challenges that affect their transition back to work, such as learning to navigate the relationships with other employees, their employer, or the insurer as well as challenges related to managing their tasks, workload and their pain or function.

Workplace rehabilitation is key

Workplace rehabilitation is a multi-disciplinary approach that aims to support employees who are injured or ill, enabling them to remain in their current role, helping them find a more suitable position, or also providing an opportunity and resources to find new employment prospects, if appropriate.

Workplace rehabilitation provides ongoing support to these workers who are injured or ill in managing their medical conditions. This support may include attendance and participation in medical case conferences as well as guidance and support through prevention, education, and rehabilitation. The program aims to assist the worker in managing their return to work by working with their employer, treating professionals and insurer. Employees who are injured or ill are provided with a helping hand, information and numerous resources that can empower them, improve their confidence in their abilities, and assist them in transitioning back to work.

A dedicated rehabilitation program that offers physical and socio-emotional support

With their specialised allied health backgrounds, dedicated rehabilitation specialists can provide support in managing some of the compensation challenges associated with a transition back to work for a worker who is injured or ill.

A workplace rehabilitation program can help employees find appropriate treatment providers, including physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, psychologists, etc.

With their background, rehabilitation specialists understand the impact that a physical or psychological injury can have on the whole person and consider the biopsychosocial model as best practice. Therefore, they offer regular assistance to employees to ensure that they feel supported in all aspects of their recovery throughout the rehabilitation process. Additionally, they can offer and discuss other services available to employees, for example Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits or other benefits.

Help with re-integrating into the workforce

Rehabilitation specialists specialise in offering advice and education around the return-to-work process and expectations.

For example, they can attend the workplace to assess the duties of the injured or ill employee to propose alternate ways of doing things, identify appropriate tasks and recommend specific equipment to help in the transition. In addition, the specialist can assist in proposing a plan with specific time frames and can help identify suitable and manageable tasks within the employee’s current capacity — facilitating a quick, smooth, and sustainable return to work.

In addition, these specialists have access to a vast network of other resources and can recommend appropriate general practitioners, specialists, and physiotherapists.

Rehabilitation specialists are passionate about what they do, and their goal is to keep people healthy and safe at work. They are invested in ensuring a positive outcome for the employee, working with each individual to strengthen their self-confidence, knowledge, and functional capacity.

The benefits of a workplace rehabilitation program in action

My current role with APM has provided me with incredible exposure and positive experiences. APM’s workplace rehabilitation program, WorkCare, is an important program that addresses proactive injury and illness management and helps people transition to work successfully.

For example, a 65-year-old male ex-veteran employee was discharged twenty years ago with numerous physical and psychological conditions. He had worked in multiple roles post-discharge but could not hold positions for longer than a couple of years due to his physical ailments. He underwent hip surgery and lost his most recent job. As a result, he suffered from a significant decline in his mental and physical health, reporting increased depressive episodes, difficulty managing his physical symptoms, increased financial stressors, more arguments with his partner, and reduced social engagement.

He was referred to APM after being unemployed for twelve months and after numerous unsuccessful attempts at securing a job.

APM worked with him for three months in providing an enhanced resume and cover letter, highlighting his most notable skills and past experiences. With APM’s external job network and contacts, APM found him a job that he could tolerate physically. Now, being employed, his physical and psychological conditions have improved significantly, and he feels more confident and motivated. He has found his purpose again.

A workplace rehabilitation program provides the support and services employees need to return to work successfully, and it can facilitate the impacts of employee injury or illness on the business. Rehabilitation specialists help employers, employees, and other parties work together to ensure a safe and healthy return to work.

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