Getting back on the (work) horse: the benefits of returning to work after an injury


For people who have recently suffered an injury, the last thing on their mind is returning to work. Regardless of how serious the injury or whether it was work related or non-work related, there is a common perception that if you’re not fully fit, you shouldn’t be at work.

However, most of us are familiar with the fact that work is generally good for our health and wellbeing.[1] It gives us a daily structure and routine, keeps our minds and bodies active throughout the day, provides us with the chance to socialise and can often distract and separate us from personal matters that we may need an escape from.  So, it stands to reason that long-term work absence can have a negative impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

Recent studies have revealed that returning to work after an agreed-upon and reasonable period of rest can in fact be mentally and physically beneficial for the worker and the organisation in many ways.[2] This is particularly applicable in the case where the employee has been injured at work and may be off for a long period of time. The issue is that the likelihood of them returning to full duties significantly reduces for every day they are away from work.

It’s also important to note that prolonged absences from work does not just affect the worker – it can also have a significant impact on their family, work colleagues and friends. It is for this reason, and many more, that an early and fully supported return to work process can help with recovery and often leads to the most effective and efficient return to work outcomes.

The best return to work solutions is not what you think 

It seems that taking an excessive amount of time off work after an injury and only returning after we are fully healed is not always the best course of action, even if it seems to be the most reasonable and viable option. The idea of resting up until we are fully fit for work again can be tempting for some but can also be detrimental to our overall health. An Australian study suggests that if a person is off work for:

  • 20 days, the chance of the person returning to work is 70 per cent.
  • 45 days, the chance of the person returning to work is 50 per cent.
  • 70 days, the chance of the person returning to work is 35 per cent. [4]

Research also suggests that you don’t have to be 100% healthy before returning to work.[5] So, with this in mind, we need to change the way we think about work and health in order to get people back to work as soon as possible.

Why returning to work after an injury is good for everyone

Work plays a crucial role in any rehabilitation process because ‘doing’ encourages recovery from illness and injury. In addition to this, work not only provides monetary satisfaction but it can also deliver a sense of accomplishment and strengthen social relationships.[1] Some other health benefits of returning to work after injury for the employee include:

  • Improved recovery rates
  • Lower rate of physical and mental health problems
  • Less disruption to family, work, and social life

There are also benefits for the employer, such as:

  • Reduced in claim costs and less impact on premiums[2]
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Improved staff morale

4 tips for getting back on the work horse.

  1. Tailored RTW plans

Returning to work following an injury is an important step in an employee’s overall recovery. All Return to Work Plans should be tailored to the individual needs of the employee in question and their specific job tasks. It should also include a suggested return to work date, any modifications to current and potentially problematic tasks, any changes to working times, and how their return to work will be monitored and reviewed.

  1. Communication

Open and regular communication between the physiotherapist, medical practitioner, managers and the injured worker is imperative. When all parties are on the same page and working towards the same goals, RTW outcomes are often achieved significantly faster.

  1. Provide Ongoing Support

While most employers are great at supporting an employee through the early stages of an injury, once the initial hype has ended many forget to provide ongoing support to the injured employee. Keeping in contact with an injured employee on a regular basis and letting them know that you haven’t forgotten about them is crucial. Set a weekly or fortnightly reminder to given them a quick call to just check in and remind them that are still a valued member of the team.

  1. Educate the injured worker

Helping employees understand the health benefits of work and encouraging them to return to work sooner rather than later after an injury, will not only benefit the worker physically and mentally, it will also benefit the organisation