The goal of helping an injured person return-to-work and productivity is the best thing we can do. Standard operating procedure for return-to-work (RTW) is comprised of job analysis and the RTW discussion, which includes transitional opportunities. These steps are traditionally part of the initial assessment of the injured person by the employer. By initiating and developing these relationships between the injured person, employer and provider you establish credibility in the coaching process and help all parties to understand the vital role of the case manager. Establishing trust with all parties is an integral part of the preventative work that increases the chance of a successful return-to-work outcome.
Many people think of vocational rehabilitation as “the end of the line.” In actuality, vocational rehab or RTW coaching should be present early in the case management process. The longer an injured person is out of work, the more likely a mindset can develop that lengthens or prevents an effective return to their full potential. Being proactive and facilitating the relationship between the injured person, employer and provider creates an opportunity to influence a paradigm shift. By helping the individual see what is possible early in the process, we can then help them fully realize their inherent abilities. In the unfortunate situation where it’s determined early in the case that RTW with the current employer is not possible, a full vocational assessment and transferable skills analysis is appropriate to determine other job opportunities.
There are also psycho-social barriers in addition to the physical challenges of returning to work after an injury. The injured person often feels a level of mistrust that their interests are not important or that they will not be honored and upheld. This may include a feeling that the employer does not want them to return. Often there are other “non-medical” issues that arise, such as difficulty with childcare, elder care, family illness or simply a dislike for their job. The case manager needs to uncover what these barriers are and then work to remove them. Most importantly, the case manager should motivate the individual to want to return to a productive job as part of their life. If returning to work in itself doesn’t motivate them, then find out what does. Is it saving money for college? Buying a new boat? Being able to ski again? If we can figure out what motivates them, then we can set objectives to help them meet that goal.
We should be thinking about new ways to reintroduce and better incorporate RTW coaching into the case management process. For instance, today’s work force is aging but the skill set that these individuals possess is not being replaced at the rate that is needed. Employers need to be more accommodating to the needs of this specific work force demographic. By performing job analysis, ergonomic assessments, assisting employers in identifying transitional or modified duty and coordinating the return-to-work process at the onset of the claim, we can facilitate a safe and timely return-to-work regardless of age.
Getting the skilled worker back to the workforce is one advantage to the employer. Through RTW coaching, job analysis and transitional or modified duty identification, we can efficiently and fiscally create a successful transition back to work.