What is a Return to Work Program?
Return to work programs, true to their name, are a set of protocols and guidelines to help injured workers reintegrate into their employment position after they have taken time off due to injury or illness.
If you value your employees, you should know that the longer an injured worker is off work, the less likely they are to return. On average, if a worker is off for 12 or more weeks, there is only a 50% chance that they will return to the same job. If they’re off for more than 1 year, there is a less than 5% chance they return to the same job. Developing a coherent return to work program will help you keep your valued employees and ensure that they have a job after recovery. Here, we’ll go over two questions: “what are the benefits of a return to work program for an employer?” and “how does a return to work program benefit an injured worker?”
We’ll also give you some insights on how you can start creating your own program.
Benefits of a Return to Work Program for Employers
1. Lower cost.
The most appealing benefit for employers is that a return to work program will actually save a lot of money in the long run. Lower workers’ compensation costs eliminate the need for a new hire. This is more crucial than most think — keep in mind that hiring a new employee in place of an injured one costs both time and money. Collecting resumes, going through the interview/hiring process, training and bringing that new employee up-to-speed can take several months. A previously-injured and already-established employee could be fully recovered and already back at work by the time your new hire is at full productivity.
Another often overlooked cost-saving mechanism of return to work programs is that even if the injured employee were to work part-time until they’re fully recovered, they would collect fewer disability benefits while still contributing to your organization’s success. This is a major contributor of lowering workers comp costs.
2. Reduce staff turnover rate.
Because you won’t need to hire new staff and expend time and resources to train them, you’re reducing the risk of staff turnover. The cost of turnover is largely dependent on the industry and the position. But some experts identify a correlation in how specialized the job is and the cost of replacing that position. For midrange to executive level positions, it’s estimated that hiring and training a new employee can cost anywhere between 9 months – 2 years of that position’s salary.
3. Increase morale.
Employees want to know that, in exchange for giving you their time and effort, you have their backs. Injuries and illnesses happen — it’s just a fact of life. But tossing trusted employees by the wayside when misfortune strikes isn’t a good business practice for multiple reasons.
First off, if employees can’t trust you to be there for them in their time of need, they won’t give you their best work. By having a return to work program in place and educating the staff on how it works and what to expect, you’re telling them, “we value you and your skillset. It’s not a problem if you need time for recovery — get well and you’ll have a job waiting for you when you’re ready.” It may not sound like a lot, but this small validation and sign of care goes a long way in building mutual trust, improving staff morale and ultimately increasing productivity.
Benefits of a Return to Work Program for Injured Workers
4. Relieves stress and uncertainty.
Having a return to work program eliminates all elements of uncertainty and stress for the injured worker. If there’s no established return to work protocol in place, an employee that experiences injury or illness will wonder: How will I pay the bills? Should I start job hunting? Should I try going back to work before full recovery? Is my boss already interviewing new candidates? Constant stress about job security and income aren’t very good recovery methods. A properly implemented return to work program will let the employees rest easy, knowing there’s still a place for them when they get better, allowing them to focus their attention on recovering and getting back to normal.
5. Creates a sense of normalcy.
As stated above, return to work programs create a sense of normalcy for the injured or sick worker. By helping the employee focus on their return instead of their current condition, it retains their self worth. Depending on the situation, there might be room for the employee to come back to work before full recovery, even in a lesser capacity — working part-time, doing less stressful duties, etc. This more effectively helps them realize what they can and can’t do, making them feel useful and creating a smoother transition back into the workforce.
Ultimately, these programs take a giant weight off the employees’ backs so they can focus on recovering and not having to worry about how they’re going to pay the bills. Stress inhibits recovery, so guaranteeing that they’ll have employment and making seamless transitions between work and recovery go a long way in employee morale and productivity.
How to Develop Your Own Return to Work Program
The ultimate goal of a return to work program is to return injured workers to their jobs in a timely and medically safe manner. Most injured workers, when given the opportunity, can perform modified applications of their normal jobs, perform alternate duty work, and/or work reduced hours at adjusted wages.
So how do you begin your return to work program? In 7 easy steps:
- Write out your reasoning: Explain the importance of the program to all employees, including higher-ups. Reinforce your commitment to the workers’ wellbeing.
- Appoint a return to work coordinator: This person is the spokesperson and head honcho if misfortune strikes an employee.
- Develop emergency protocol: Have the procedure in place so you’ll be prepared before an accident occurs.
- Write out transitional jobs: What are the duties an injured or ill employee can perform without overly exerting themselves? Think about abilities, not disabilities.
- Establish a written job description: Help assess an injured worker’s ability to return to their regular and transitional jobs.
- Provide a transitional return to work program: Maybe an employee’s job doesn’t have duties that can be done while they recover. You could fund a program where the employee could serve in an alternate capacity within the community. Agreeing to fund this may include tax benefits. Additionally, the employee will get reacquainted with a workday routine.
- Select a company physician: This depends on local laws. While you can’t direct care for employees in some states, you can select a company physician to come tour the facility and help write the transitional job descriptions based on common injuries your facility is likely to have.