How to get the best out of injured or sick employees

Your employees are your most valuable asset. Sadly, it is a fact of life that your workers will sometimes suffer illness or disability which will keep them from work for varying amounts of time. Research shows that the longer a worker stays away from work on sickness absence, the less likely it is that she will return to work. If your employee is off sick for 6 months, her chances of returning to work is 50%, but if the worker has been off sick for 12 months, the chances of returning drops to just 5%.


If you are a good employer, you will be making every effort to keep your employees, including those who are ill or injured. This is particularly so for the experienced ones, as they embody an element of your organisation’s history and productivity.


The question is, how can you help an injured or ill employee to return to work as quickly as possible? Often, the worker would have a sickness note from the GP stating that he can return to work on ‘light duties’. The trouble is what constitutes light duties for a warehouse operative returning to work after a back problem or for a personal assistant return to work at the computer after a bout of upper limb disorders (also known as Repetitive Strain Injury-RSI)? The answer to the question is not straight forward. Yet, you can find a solution in almost all cases.


The principle for finding a workable solution is that every job is made up of tasks. Each task on its own and together with other tasks places a certain demand on the worker. This demand can be physical or mental and in most cases it would be both. On the flip side, every worker has a certain level of capability to meet the demands of the job-these capabilities are also both physical and mental. When the employee is fit and healthy, her capabilities either match or exceed the demands of the job but when the worker is ill or injured, her capabilities are less than the demands of the job.


The mistake that some employers make is to throw the baby out with the bath water by assuming that the injured or ill employee has no place until he is fully recovered or symptom free. Instead, what you should do is to analyse the employee’s job, breaking it down to see the various tasks and the demands of each. Then, assess the worker’s capability to carry out each task. Based on this analysis, you can interpret what ‘light duties’ mean in the context of the worker’s situation.


Here is a likely outcome: you can vary the volume, intensity, selection and duration of the worker’s tasks over time, to help him return safely to work. This is known as a Return to Work (RTW) plan. An example would be for the personal assistant to return to work at the computer for only a few hours a day for the first few weeks and to gradually build up her hours over a 2 month period.


Remember that if you take away the contributions of your workforce to your business, the business ceases to exist! Therefore there are financial benefits in trying your best to return your injured or ill employee to work as quickly as possible.


Obviously, a RTW plan needs the skills of an expert in the field. Our consultants at Salveo Ltd have the expertise to help you with a RTW plan.



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