Tim Marsh and Karen Royale compare and contrast what very best practise is in return to work circles.
“In recent years we like to think we’ve been developing and pioneering a holistic and integrated approach to error management. The experiences of one of the authors really illustrates just how inter-related almost any field with an employee in it is. In particular, in the ‘new normal’ we’ve been struck by the overlaps between best practice from the field of traditional ‘return to work’ coaching and management and good old fashioned “behavioural safety” (BBS).
“BBS usually falls under the remit of Health & Safety of course. However, ‘Return to Work’ plans usually fall under the remit of HR – whatever the cause of absence: be it physical illness like a stroke, cancer or a heart attack or acute or chronic mental illness or trauma. Now, how well those two departments co-ordinate has always been a key metric regarding any cultural improvement processes and in these COVID times it’s an increasingly important one of course. Co-ordination really shouldn’t be a problem in the ‘new reality’ though as it turns out excellence in both fields is very much the same thing.
“Return to Work best practice is:
- Agreeing a joint vision with the individual;
- Ensuring that that vision is relevant, achievable and meaningful;
- Checking everyone relevant understands what’s involved;
- Supporting and coaching people as required (and tweaking the plan as required);
- (So, giving positive feedback when things go well using questioning techniques when they don’t);
- Being clear about how you will measure success.
“It’s just another version of plan, do, review of-course …
“So, in essence, effective “return to work” plans in vocational rehabilitation place a heavy emphasis on maximizing the involvement and ownership of the individual involved – working with them to determine what they believe will work well, understanding what they can and cannot do and not just imposing a return to work plan on them.
“This dialogue based approach will resonate with any adherent of Safety Differently or Person Based Safety. It also reflects any good BBS programme – IE one that puts facilitation of behavior and workforce involvement as the key element of the approach. (As stated in many other papers: feedback based on observation is just a small element of a good BBS process if it’s included at all).
“In classic vocational rehabilitation a facilitator helps develop a graduated return to work plan and would never launch an employee fully back into their old role immediately. (Unless all agree that this is possible and desirable!). Instead, the coach typically monitors how things are progressing and there’s an on-going two way dialogue and coaching element at each stage. The coaching element is key: based on engendering a sense of ownership and control. Maximizing positive feedback when things go well is important as ever but not as important as agreeing an adjustment to the plan when they don’t.
“In short, around the world many consultants in occupational health, working through HR, have being doing exactly the same thing as consultants working in safety. Excellence in facilitating behavior change is just excellence in person management.”
Recovering from the Pandemic
“This flexible, individual and dialogue based approach is key as we emerge from the pandemic as we will all have a different image in our heads of what a ‘good return to work’ will look like.
“Does it mean still being able to stop at 4pm to spend the evening with the children as you did in lockdown? Does it mean not having to travel in rush hour regularly if at all? Does it mean having flexible hours so you can continue to support elderly (vulnerable?) relatives? For others, of-course, it’ll mean getting back to an office and/or a set routine as soon as humanly possible! (Though note that even they will have to deal with a radically changed office environment).
“And to illustrate just how volatile and uncertain everything is, last month (September 2020) the new advice was ‘stay home if possible’ again here in the UK. (SHP online readers might like to browse the expanding body of impressive work on the mind-set for “dealing with a VUCA world” with VUCA standing for volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous).
“So: if you’re the woman who’s been running an excellent BBS process or the chap who’s been helping people back to work after cancer, a stroke, a heart attack or a breakdown – knock on the door of your companies ‘back to work after COVID’ taskforce.
“You both have exactly the practical hands on experience of the skills they need!”
Karen Royale is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist who has spent many years providing workplace coaching, training and assessments to help people return to work. Karen’s more specialist work has been focused on helping people with various health conditions ranging from people with mild stress and mental health concerns to those with more extreme head injuries, stroke and long-term conditions. She has presented widely and conducted workshops for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), the DWP and the National School of Occupational Health and also undertakes vocational assessments for insurance and medico-legal work.Karen is HCPC registered, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and co-convenor of the Division of Occupational Psychology Health and Well-Being Group.
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