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What does it mean to Accommodate Illness?

The Accommodate Illness building block increases the capability of leaders to provide structured, tailored psychological injury management and return to work programs which enable employees with mental illness to recover while undertaking appropriate and meaningful work.

Key strategies

Research shows that there are two main areas workplaces can act on to have a strong accommodating illness focus: 1-4

  • a work-design focused injury management process; and
  • a work-design focused Return to Work process.

Why is it important to Accommodate Illness?

Australian businesses incur significant financial losses as a result of worker’s compensation claims being mishandled.

In addition to huge loses in productivity, between 2012 and 2013, Australian businesses, reported spending $201 million on retraining existing employees or training new employees while the injured/unwell employee remained unable to work due to an ineffective return to work process.5

On top of this, workers’ compensation payments to the unwell individual have an average cost of $68,844, including the value of lost wages and treatment combined. 6 Employees who are off work due to mental ill health and in the workers’ compensation system are a substantial loss, considering Australian businesses invest approximately twice an employee’s salary in on boarding, training and skill development.7

Organisations can intervene to prevent significance losses by offering appropriate and timely support to employees who are experiencing mental illness before they consider submitting a workers’ compensation claim. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found 70% of employees who reported experiencing work-related mental stress did not apply for workers’ compensation.8 Accommodating psychological injury and encouraging an unwell employee to continue working, results in significant benefit to both the organisation and the individual.

Fact

Approximately $543 million is paid, each year, in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health injury or illness.9

Research-backed strategies to improve accommodation of mental illness in your workplace

Increase the capability of leaders to provide structured, tailored psychological injury management and return to work programs to enable employees with mental illness to recover while undertaking appropriate and meaningful work.

A work design focused injury management process

An effective injury management process is vital to ensuring employees who are experiencing mental illness or injury can continue working. An effective injury management process enables employees experiencing  mental illness to do things such as attend health appointments and recover when away from the workplace and can prevent their illness from escalating into prolonged leave.10,11

Adopting a work design focused approach to injury management ensures the employee’s tasks and work conditions provide flexibility and accommodation for the employee while they are seeking treatment.

Key features include:

  • task modification to accommodate the employee’s current capacity, while still using their skills to the fullest extent possible;12
  • leaders who provide task accommodations conduct frequent ‘check ins’ with the employee to ensure the injury management continues to accommodate their recovery;13
  • leaders and Human Resources personnel are trained in the creation and implementation of an injury management process with respect to workplace mental health; and
  • teams around the injured employee are provided with adequate resources to continue to support their work goals while the team is not at full capacity.14

Resource

For information on work-design focused injury management process, please see our guide in the resource section.

A work design focused Return to Work process

For an employee returning to work after an absence due to mental illness, an effective Return to Work (RTW) process is the key to ensuring a successful reintegration back into the workplace.15 An effective RTW process is designed based upon work which uses the employee’s skills, knowledge and abilities to create challenging and meaningful tasks, and is supported by appropriate organisational resources.

Adopting a work design centred approach to RTW gives a holistic and tailored view of the considerations required for successfully returning an employee to the workplace.16

Leaders and Human Resources personnel need to be trained in the creation and implementation of a RTW process which focuses on modifying the employee’s work content as well as creating a supportive and inclusive environment.17 Specifically, leaders and Human Resource personnel require training to effectively:

  • conduct a careful assessment of the work an employee will return to, to ensure they are provided with well-designed, high quality tasks; 18
  • understand when it is appropriate to, and then ensure returning employees are provided with a modified physical environment to accommodate their recovery;
  • conduct frequent ‘check ins’ with the employee to ensure their RTW process continues to accommodate their recovery; and19
  • provide the teams around the injured employee with adequate resources to continue to support their work goals while the team is not at full capacity.

A work design focused RTW program is structured around the five key features:

  • involving the returning employee throughout the entire process;
  • creating appropriate workloads for the returning employee;
  • increasing the returning employee’s job control;
  • providing a supportive work environment; and
  • continually evaluating the work design RTW strategies.

Resource

For information on work-design focused Return to Work process, please see our guide in the resource section.

Fact

Between 2012 and 2013, Australian organisations reported $1.54 billion in lost productivity as a result in ineffective return to work processes.20

References

  1. Andersen, M. F., Nielsen, K. M., & Brinkmann, S. (2012). Meta-synthesis of qualitative research on return to work among employees with common mental disorders. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 38(2), 93-104.
  2. Reavley, N. J., Ross, A., Killackey, E. J., & Jorm, A. F. (2012). Development of guidelines to assist organisations to support employees returning to work after an episode of anxiety, depression or a related disorder: a Delphi consensus study with Australian professionals and consumers. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), 135.
  3. Durand, M. J., Corbière, M., Coutu, M. F., Reinharz, D., & Albert, V. (2014). A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders. Work, 48(4), 579-589.
  4. Briand, C., Durand, M. J., St-Arnaud, L., & Corbière, M. (2007). Work and mental health: learning from return-to-work rehabilitation programs designed for workers with musculoskeletal disorders. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 30(4-5), 444-457.
  5.  Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2010). Work-related injuries 2009-10. ABS cat. no. 6324.0.
  6. Safe Work Australia (2018). Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/mental-health.
  7. Wang, J., Patten, S., Currie, S., Sareen, J., & Schmitz, N. (2011). Perceived needs for and use of workplace accommodations by individuals with a depressive and/or anxiety disorder. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(11), 1268-1272.
  8. Van der Klink, J. J., Blonk, R. W., Schene, A. H., & van Dijk, F. J. (2003). Reducing long term sickness absence by an activating intervention in adjustment disorders: a cluster randomised controlled design. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(6), 429-437.
  9. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  10. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  11. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  12. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  13. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  14. Durand, M. J., Corbière, M., Coutu, M. F., Reinharz, D., & Albert, V. (2014). A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders. Work, 48(4), 579-589.
  15. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  16. Durand, M. J., Corbière, M., Coutu, M. F., Reinharz, D., & Albert, V. (2014). A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders. Work, 48(4), 579-589.
Next step

Prevent

Prevent Harm is one of three pillars in the Thrive at Work Framework and a contributor to creating a workplace in which employees can thrive.