I’m a writer, and writers eavesdrop. So when I overheard a man on the bus talking on his cell phone about a workplace injury, I immediately perked up.
From what I could gather with my finely honed spying skills, this man was a construction worker who had incurred a minor injury on the job – a small cut to his hand. While the injury itself was nothing major, his employer’s reaction apparently was: The company president had called him to make sure he was okay and to see if he needed anything.
This kind of personal attention to a minor injury – “Just a little cut!” – seemed to simultaneously surprise, flatter and maybe embarrass the worker just a little. Overall, he sounded pleased that his employer had taken note of the injury and wanted to make sure he was all right. His company was looking out for him, and refused to let any workplace injury slide by unnoticed.
When I shared this story with Preston Diamond, a certified workers’ compensation advisor and managing director of the Institute of WorkComp Professionals, he called the situation “a typical example of the right thing to do” for injured workers.
Diamond then shared an example of his own: He recently spoke with a family physician who treats an average of five injured workers a month. In the doctor’s 10 years of practice, no employer has ever contacted him about an injured worker. Because the doctor doesn’t know what kind of work might be involved at a particular company, he often is unable to send an injured worker back to the job.
In short, Diamond says, communication is imperative when workers are injured.
“The key is to create a bridge so the injured worker can get back to work doing something as quickly as possible,” he explains.
Socialization may be the No. 1 reason to encourage a worker to return to some form of appropriate work after an injury. “Going home by yourself and not feeling wanted is something that nobody likes,” Diamond says. “And the longer the injured worker is off work, certainly they have less interest in going back. Some statistics say if you’re off work for 12 weeks, you have a 50 percent chance of not returning.”
Here are a few ways employers can help ensure their workers are on track to returning after an injury:
Accompany the injured worker to the medical facility. Whether it’s a supervisor, company nurse or HR professional, the worker will know management cares if someone accompanies him or her to the doctor. The employer also will gain information about the severity of the injury and determine when the worker may be able to return to work.
Keep the lines of communication open. A direct supervisor or another member of management should contact the worker the day of the injury and then at regular intervals thereafter, depending on the severity of the injury. The injured worker never should feel “banished” by the employer. And encouraging some form of communication from coworkers – such as a get-well card signed by the injured worker’s division – will make the employee feel included and in touch despite the injury.
Bring the worker back as soon as possible. Not only will this help production and prevent other employees from working overtime to cover the injured worker, it also helps raise morale and improves employee engagement. A return-to-work program and alternative duties can help ease the transition.
As for the construction worker on the bus, my stop came before I could gather additional details about his situation. But that’s okay – something tells me he’s going to be just fine.