Supporting someone to return to work after a serious injury or illness can be a difficult process when there have been many health professionals involved in their care, and many opinions on whether and when they may be fit to return to work.

Returning to work is not only of economic significance to the individual and the wider social economy, but is also an important part of recovery from injury or illness, being known to have a therapeutic benefit in the short to medium term and health protecting effects in the long term. Effective return to work planning for those with more complex conditions or social situations often requires a collaborative team approach of the individual, the health care advisors, employment support advisors and their employer (where applicable) but this is not always easy to co-ordinate.

Heather Watson is a Physiotherapist who has spent over 20 years specialising in supporting people to return to work after physical injury and illness, and has set up award winning return to work services that have catered for conditions from minor musculoskeletal disorders through to serious trauma and illness. In part one of her bl;og last week, Heather emphasised the importance of timing and getting the team in place. 

Think about the work tasks:

Planning return to work (RTW)
Planning is critical to the success of returning to work – it gives everyone a structure to work within, and an agreed target. The final RTW plan, where possible should be “owned” by the individual, with them having spoken to each of the people in the support team (especially if the team cannot easily meet) and been actively involved in the planing process.

Most importantly, wherever possible, encourage and support the person to take control of the process and the planning, take a positive approach to problem solving and look for ways to overcome obstacles. You are in a great position to help them with this by providing reassurance and working through some of these strategies with them and bringing experiences of what has worked for others in a similar position.  Finally, remind the individual that anyone considering a return to work has already overcome many obstacles, is learning how to cope positively with their health condition – and most people can successfully get back to work with the right support and encouragement.