Psychosocial Barriers in Returning to Work Following an Injury

If you want to know whether your employees expect to return to work following an injury, try asking them! In a recent study, 530 injured employees rated their outlook in terms of anticipated recovery and ability to return to work. Of the 162 respondents who predicted that their injury would prevent them from returning to work, 96% never went back to the workplace. Their negative expectations became reality!

Because expectations and beliefs greatly affect an injured employee’s motivation to return to work, even the best return-to-work program can’t guarantee that injured employees will return to the workplace. Some of the factors that may negatively influence an employee’s outlook include inadequate understanding of the medical condition, unrealistic expectations about recovery, and fear that returning to work may create further injury.

There are also various psychological and social factors that can affect how an injured employee feels about returning to work, including:

  • Level of overall job satisfaction
  • Support at home and/or at work
  • Relationships with supervisor and colleagues
  • Beliefs about the cause of injury or pain

How can employers proactively tackle these concerns before an injury occurs?

  1. Build and maintain positive relationships with employees.  Open communication fosters positive relationships and leads to higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Encourage your employees to share their ideas and concerns with you to demonstrate that you are interested in their well-being and value their contributions.
  2. Flexibility can help motivate employees. Understand what motivates your employees and be prepared to create new options. Some employees seek new challenges while others may want more flexibility in terms of work hours or job tasks. In general, employee motivation may be greatly influenced by your willingness to share planning decisions and adjust work environments or job tasks. Employees who enjoy their jobs are typically loyal to their employers and more eager to return to their workplace after an injury. These principles also apply when establishing a transitional work assignment for an injured employee.
  3. Explain your company’s return-to-work policy. Make sure that all employees understand your company’s motivation and commitment to helping injured employees return to work safely after an injury. You will boost company morale by actively engaging your employees to assist and encourage their recovering co-workers.

Although severe injuries can prevent an employee from ever returning to work, the good news is that an employer can directly and positively impact an injured worker’s recovery outlook and outcomes.

Although the path back to work can sometimes seem like a minefield for both employers and injured workers, the highly trained clinicians and therapists at Workers Compensation Psychological Network are here to assist claims adjusters, employers and injured workers every step of the way.

Recovery: Sooner, Faster, Smarter