Leadership & Communication | Occupational Health & Safety

Why should organisations implement a proactive Return to Work program?

21 Jul 2017, by Laurien Maerman

In the lead up to the Return to Work Conference we spoke to guest speakers Michele Ghassemi, Regional Workplace Safety & Wellbeing Leader at David Jones and Larissa Meysner, Manager Psychological Services at PeopleSense by Altius. This year, the Return to Work Conference will look into best practice strategies that supports employees through the process of rehabilitation and manages their return to the workplace in a timely and safe manner. We reached out to Michele and Larissa to learn more about their experiences and expectations of implementing a Return to Work process.

Why do you think it’s so important for organisations to implement a Return to Work program and promote a proactive approach?
Michele:
“It’s important to have a strong RTW Process in your business for several reasons. Firstly, as we all know, it will affect your premium. The more wages you pay by either not accommodating workers or by not being pro-active in your involvement in attaining upgrades, the more it will cost your business. Secondly, by having a RTW Process, you will be creating a unified message to managers and a unified message to all your workers that having a worker’s compensation claim means ‘RTW’ and not time off work. By doing this, you will create a RTW culture. Finally, research has shown that the longer a person is off work, the harder it will be to return them to work. By having a strong and proactive RTW Process, you will ensure that it is everyone’s responsibility in the business to promote and increase RTW.”

Larissa: “So ofLarissa Meysnerten employees who are away from the workplace due to injury or illness can be victims of ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ thinking. By being proactive, especially with communication, organisations can ensure that employees don’t perceive a lack of engagement from their employer as a lack of caring. Research consistently tells us that the longer an employee is off work, the less likely a successful RTW outcome is, so it is in an organization’s best interests to be proactive and take an early intervention approach. I am really passionate about early intervention – dedicating time and resources to properly identifying the injury and getting the best evidence based treatment available at the outset. I think there are still too many delays at key decision-making points in the process, which end up impacting all parties negatively.”

Michelle, can you share some of the challenges and positive outcomes from implementing a RTW process at David Jones?
Michele:
 “In the early stages one of the challenges we faced was getting our Store Managers and Store Operations Managers to understand the importance of RTW and participation as they would resist accommodating light duties. We implemented our RTW Process, ran training sessions to educate them on RTW and how it affected the business financially. Last but not least, we incorporated RTW to be a part of our key performance indicators, and now early intervention and RTW is the way we do business.”

What are the key takeaways of your presentation at the Conference this September and what are you most looking forward to as a speaker at the upcoming Return to Work Conference?

Michele: “I am looking forward to sharing the success story of David Jones. We came from a very different place 10 years ago and I look forward to sharing the strategies and processes we have implemented over the years. By means of the significant benefits reaped, and what worked and didn’t work for us, which I believe will also benefit many other businesses no matter what their size is. I will be specifically outlining some of the initiatives that I believe other businesses could benefit from, such as; Early Monitoring, Proposed RTW Plans, Managing Personal Injuries to Reduce Risk and IME Preperation.”

Larissa: “Being on worker’s compensation challenges a person’s strength, identity and tests their resilience. Too often it is workers with poor coping skills that go on to develop secondary psychological issues or struggle to achieve a positive RTW outcome. The good news is that like riding a bicycle, resilience can be learnt and neuroscience tells us that we can re-wire a person’s brain to make them more resilient. Takeaways from this presentation will be practical tools, strategies and conversation frameworks that help anyone interacting with injured workers to promote and develop resilience.”


At the Return to Work Conference, Larissa Meysner will examine how we can support all workers’ mental health during the return to work process and prevent secondary psychological issues using a proactive approach. Michele Ghassemi will present an overview of the RTW process at David Jones, by providing an insight into success practices, accommodating duties at all costs, reducing risk by managing personal injuries and innovative RTW techniques.

The Return to Work Conference will be running concurrently with the premier Safety in Action Conference of the year and the third annual Workplace Wellness Conference. With the three Safety in Action Conferences running in adjacent rooms, you will be able to switch sessions and plan a track to suit your requirements. Find out more here

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