The work environment influences the return to work outcome regardless of the injury or medical condition (Kosny et al., 2013). Employers as well as co-workers of an injured employee have a meaningful role in the return to work process of an injured colleague. What’s important is how an injured worker is supported during the acute and rehabilitative phases after an injury. Co-workers are indispensible in supporting an injured worker during the transition from being disabled, through the complete injury recovery process and returning to full duty employment.
Sadly it is common to hear that employers and co-workers routinely do not follow-up with an injured worker once they have left the work environment due to their injury. Quite often injured workers are not contacted by their supervisor or their co-workers to check on their recovery progress. The injured worker who once belonged to a crew of workers or other such team sharing a common cause is suddenly isolated from their traditional work surroundings.
The injured employee in many instances feels isolated and cut off from an important social network. The inability of an injured worker to participate in routine activities and feel productive gives rise to depression, frustration, and sometimes contempt for co-workers and supervisors. A disability syndrome begins to emerge, and if left to fester over the course of time, may impede an injured worker’s return to work even if they are physically able to.
The psycho-social impact that supervisors and co-workers can have on an injured worker’s recovery can make the difference between an extended leave of absence and a successful timely return to work. Co-workers can support injured workers immediately following an injury by providing details of the events that lead up to an injury if the injury was witnessed, and provide corroboration of the incident in the work environment. Co-workers and supervisors may assist the injured worker in accessing appropriate medical care. Following the acute phase, periodic checks and even visits by co-workers and supervisors with injured workers can provide a real boost to the morale of an injured employee. The impact of this post injury social interaction should not be underestimated.
Co-workers and supervisors are in an excellent position to provide the necessary support to an injured worker during their transition back to work once they are able to return to modified duty. Employers can support returning injured workers by having their work environment optimized to meet work restrictions. Immediate supervisors can articulate to team members what restrictions the injured worker has and identify specific co-workers to provide assistance as needed to injured workers.
This support helps to ensure that injured employees that have returned to work stay within their physician directed activity restrictions, as well as providing the necessary social boost that is often needed during the transition period when an employee is returning to work.
The most valuable asset of any organization regardless of its size is its work force. As such the work environment needs to be as safe as possible and the culture of the organization should be such that injured workers are supported appropriately throughout their injury and recovery period.
Kosny, A., Lifshen, M., Pugliese, D., Majeksy, G., Kramer, D., Steenstra, I., …Carrasco, C. (2013). Buddies in bad times? The role of co-workers after a work related injury. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 23, 438-449. Doi:10.1007/s10926-012-9411-z