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Putting workers in the driver’s seat

Best practice

Understand workers’ psychological responses to a physical injury, and support them to think positively and actively drive and participate in their own recovery and return to work (RRTW).

Why this is important

Nearly half of workers who’ve had a workplace injury experience a psychological response following it. This may include anxiety, stress, adjustment to injury and fear of reinjury.

Workers who feel confident and positive about their recovery and have support from their employer, are less likely to experience these psychological responses and will generally achieve better recovery and return to work outcomes.

Their outcomes can also be improved by having social support, positive expectations about their likelihood to return to work, support from the workplace and involvement in the return to work process.

Your toolkit

You can support injured workers to be positive about their recovery.

  1. Be aware of indicators of delayed return to work and psychological reactions to injury such as emotional distress, fatigue, fear avoidance and increased stress.
  2. Make early and regular contact with workers throughout their recovery. Read more about strategies on what to say and how to plan your communication in our previous e-bulletin - how to communicate with workers with psychological injuries and early intervention.
  3. Provide support and training for supervisors and RRTWCs to build their knowledge and understanding of psychological responses to injury. The Mentally healthy workplaces toolkit (PDF, 11.45 MB) includes information on how to develop supportive and capable managers and leaders, as well as indicators of potential distress. You can also find information on how to remove stigma around workplace injuries and create a positive workplace culture.
  4. Make reasonable modifications to accommodate the worker to recover at work. Read this article about overcoming return to work barriers, and visit to read about suitable duties and how to identify suitable duties, and overcoming challenges to return to work.
  5. Empower injured workers to actively participate in their own RRTW by learning about how to tailor a return to work plan to suit the worker (for example, by taking a biopsychosocial and person-centred approach).
  6. Track the success of and continually improve your RRTW initiatives.
  7. Consult and collaborate with all stakeholders involved in the injured worker’s recovery, in line with the worker’s RRTW plan developed by the insurer.
  8. Link workers experiencing a psychological injury or distress to the Workers’ Psychological Support Service. This free and independent service connects workers to community social support services appropriate to their needs, e.g. finance, housing, domestic violence, etc.
  9. Read the Research to support workers’ psychological responses to injury and successful return to work report.