December 19, 2018

An injured worker’s recovery is incomplete until return to work takes place, and that's an area where an employer's compassion can impact an employee's well-being. At Texas Mutual, we see firsthand how empathy can improve workers' compensation outcomes. In our compassion blog series, we've helped you get started by setting a positive tone in your workplace with an employee-first focus. Our second article shared common concerns and fears from injured workers to help you understand how an injured worker may feel in an unfamiliar situation.

In our final article in the series, you can take away tips and tools to incorporate a proactive and employee-focused approach for return to work.

Steps to a compassionate return-to-work program

A successful return-to-work process begins before an injury occurs. This philosophy should be thoroughly explained upon hire, reviewed in periodic safety trainings, incorporated into the company culture, and embraced by all employees.

These steps provide for an optimal, safe and employee-first approach to the return-to-work process:

  1. Embrace safety values: Download our safety values poster and encourage your workplace to adopt an employee-first focus. This helps everyone at your company begin an ongoing dialogue about responding to workplace injuries with compassion.
  2. Build company morale through cross training: Encourage your teams to cross train so that if an employee is out for an injury, or any other reason, your teams can backfill their duties. This strategy also builds morale by encouraging workers to get to know each other and understand each person's role within the company.
  3. Collaborate on job duty documentation: Make sure to keep updated descriptions of what your employees do so that you can easily identify the areas that need to be covered in the event of an injury. You can have your employees participate in this process, which gives management an opportunity to show appreciation for the work everyone contributes to the company.
  4. Identify transitional duty tasks: Plan for the unexpected by identifying seasonal duties, tasks currently filled by temporary workers, sedentary work and other types of jobs that are beneficial to the business. This will help you provide work for an injured worker with medical restrictions. Creativity is key. Conduct a quarterly review of transitional duty tasks to keep it current.
  5. Maintain documentation of return-to-work capabilities and work restrictions: A work status report should be completed by a medical provider. This form gives an injured worker and their employer clear guidance on what tasks can be safely performed. In all return-to-work plans, it is essential that modified job duties are within the physical limits identified by the medical provider. Encourage injured workers to carry a copy of their restrictions at all times. This gives the employee a tool to communicate to a supervisor, who may not be familiar with the restrictions.

Your company's policies should define the return-to-work process, as well as when and how injuries are reported, treatment options, emergency procedures, narcotics policy, forms, accountability and roles, and Texas Mutual contacts, etc. Engage management and supervisory staff in the creation and implementation of these processes.

Ways to show compassion

Our previous article on compassionate care for injured workers emphasized understanding their fears. One way you can show compassion to an injured worker is by saying "I'm sorry that this happened to you. You're a valuable member of the team, and together, we'll get through this." The important thing is to keep showing your employees that you care about their well-being. Keep lines of communication open while an employee is in recovery and when they return to work so that you are aware of any particular fears and concerns.

Here are a few suggestions that employers can incorporate into practice to demonstrate to employees that they care and support their recovery.

  • Recovery: Maintain open communication. Call and ask how they are doing or keep in touch with a family member. Consider sending the injured worker a Get Well card signed by all employees or send flowers to show that the team is thinking about them. Communicate to the injured worker that "We are all thinking of you and wish you a speedy recovery. We look forward to having you back here with us." And, reassure them that they don't need to worry about their job responsibilities while they focus on recovery.
  • Initial return to work: Communicate to the injured worker that "We are committed to helping you return to work. We'd like to get you back with the team as soon as you are able. I'll be in touch with you and your adjuster to assist in the return-to-work planning."

When employees return to work, it's important to support them in either transitional duty or accommodated job duties. During the first week of return to work, you or a supervisor should check in with the employee on a daily basis to ensure progress, identify any concerns and provide ongoing support. Leave a card or note that welcomes them back.

  • Long-term success: Continue to maintain open communication through planned, periodic follow up. It's important to help the employee transition and show support throughout the first thirty days back on the job.

When there has been a severe workplace injury, it could leave an injured worker's family devastated. You can extend compassion to an employee's family. Consider supporting them with meal trains (getting employees to make or purchase dinners for family members), contributing to restaurant gift cards or organizing a grocery delivery service. These gestures can make a big difference in an employee's morale. They are more likely to recognize you as a high-quality employer that truly cares. These generous acts of support encourage recovery and overall well-being.

When you encourage positive interactions, it benefits you, your entire team, and most importantly, the injured employee. But more than that, the way your company addresses a workplace incident can influence overall company morale. Doing good brings good, while a more negative or hostile environment can be damaging to your business.

As your workers' compensation provider, Texas Mutual adjusters will help you every step of the way. They are a resource to answer any questions you or your injured worker may have about workers' compensation, and they can collaborate with you on return-to-work plans that comply with the doctor's return-to-work recommendations and restrictions.

This is the third article in our empathy series. Read part one on the secret to improving workers' compensation outcomes and part two on what your employee is really thinking when they are injured on the job.