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Common barriers and solutions to return to work

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Employers and workers can both experience a range of concerns about return to work after an injury. Without the right processes and support in place, finding the most effective way to facilitate return to work can be a daunting prospect.

Common barriers to return to work include workplace culture, poor communication between parties during the worker’s recovery, and a lack of, or inflexible, return to work planning.

Here are a few potential solutions to address these common return to work issues.

Workplace culture

Building a supportive and proactive workplace culture can help overcome a worker’s anxiety about returning to work after an injury.

  • Top-down approach – Make the case to senior management of the value of return to work. Provide supervisor training regarding the importance of supporting the return to work process and discuss the health benefits of good work and the advantages of getting back to work early for the employer, workplace and for the injured worker.
  • High level of employer involvement in claims – Initiate and maintain close liaison with the injured worker, treating medical and allied health practitioners, worker’s supervisor, and WorkCover.
  • Inclusive workplaces – Encourage workers to stay connected to their workplace during recovery.
  • Confront any history of poor working relationships – Poor worker/management relations can be a major hurdle to overcome when trying to arrange return to work. It is important to acknowledge any anger or hostility impartially, and provide expert intervention to manage conflict.


Good communication between all parties, including the worker, employer, WorkCover, and treating medical and allied health practitioners, during the recovery process is vital to a safe and early return to work. Giving a worker the opportunity to raise any concerns they have with their manager can help boost their confidence and empower them in their recovery, increasing the likelihood of a sustainable return to work.

  • Regular contact – Establish early and regular contact with the worker after the injury and discuss when and how often you will check in with them to ensure they are comfortable with this.
  • Active listening – Genuinely listen to the other person and demonstrate you understand what they’re saying.
  • Be approachable and accessible as a leader – Show that if workers have concerns, they can come and talk with you.
  • Two-way communication – Give the worker the opportunity to identify their own concerns about potential health and safety issues and difficulties about returning to work, and then work together through possible solutions.

Return to work planning

Be flexible in return to work planning – it helps to think outside the square and understand that each worker will have different needs, depending on their injury and situation. Consider what other duties are available, and what modifications might need to be made to the person’s role.

  • Changing hours of work – Part time hours, splitting shifts or allowing a worker to take more frequent breaks can allow for the effects of medication, necessary appointments for treatment of their condition, and the gradual build-up of their fitness for work.
  • Monitor the worker’s workload – Ensure they are not under pressure to deliver more work than they are capable of while they are still recovering from their injury. Check in with them regularly to ask how they are coping and offer support.
  • Consider the impact on other workers – If the injured worker is working fewer hours or is taking on a smaller workload, think about how you will manage any changes in workflow for other team members. This can help to foster a more supportive working environment that feels welcoming and accommodating to the recovering worker.
  • Find suitable duties – Use WorkCover’s online resources to identify potential suitable duties by specific industry role – there are job task analyses, physical demand photo galleries, as well as return to work checklists available to share with the worker’s treating medical practitioner to help them make an informed decision about their patient’s capacity for work.
  • Look at alternative arrangements if necessary – If there are no suitable duties available, a host employer may be able to offer a temporary placement in their workplace until the worker can return to their normal role. WorkCover’s Recover at Work program can facilitate a host employment arrangement.

More information

Last updated
15 January 2019