Topical Seminar 8

Topical Seminar 8:
Supervisors and WDP: jurisdictional similarities and differences and new avenues for research

Session chair(s): Vicki Kristman, Bill Shaw

Schedule Details

Wednesday October 1
14:00 - 15:30 Afternoon Concurrent Sessions (W O1 - W O4 and Seminars 7 and 8)
Topic: Workplace factors associated with WDP
Room C

Seminar Objectives

Immediate supervisors play a key role in the return to work of injured or ill workers. This seminar will explore the role of the supervisor in the return to work process by presenting current research on the competencies of supervisors and the factors influencing their role in the return to work process. We will compare and contrast jurisdictional findings on supervisors and discuss new avenues for research and education on supervisors and their roles in work disability prevention.

We will present current research findings on supervisors and work disability prevention from four different countries. These presentations include first, results from an Australian study on the competencies supervisors need in order to facilitate a worker’s return to work; second, results from a Danish study identifying the barriers and facilitators that influence the supervisors’ role in return to work; and finally, two presentations focusing on factors that influence supervisors’ role in work disability prevention: one from Canada and one from Sweden. Presenting this work together will allow for discussion with the audience on the similarities and differences across various jurisdictions regarding supervisors’ roles in work disability prevention. We will also discuss advancing this area of research by identifying future avenues for further study.

Each presentation will be 15 minutes in duration, leaving 30 minutes for general discussion time with the audience. Specific questions will be posed to both presenters and audience members to facilitate discussion. Attendees should have a better appreciation for the role of the supervisor in the return to work process, factors influencing this role, and areas in need of further research.

Presentation 1: Supervisor competencies for supporting return to work after a mental health or musculoskeletal disorder

Presented by: Venerina Johnston

Authors

Johnston V1, Way K1,2, Long M1, Wyatt M3, Gibson L1, Shaw WS4

  1. School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia
  2. School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia
  3. Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and ResWorks and RTWMatters.org, Victoria, Australia
  4. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Hopkinton, MA, USA

Abstract

Background

A recent review of workers’ compensation systems in Australia showed that at the workplace, 30% of injured workers nominated their immediate supervisor as providing the most help with their return to work (RTW) compared with occupational health and safety officers (8%), human resource staff (3%) or RTW coordinators (3%). The importance of line supervisors for RTW has been confirmed by empirical studies with supervisors and injured workers. Whether supervisors possess the competencies needed to carry out this work effectively is unknown. The aim of this research was to determine the competencies supervisors need in order to facilitate a worker’s return to work following absence due to a mental health condition or a musculoskeletal disorder.

Methods

Supervisors from five industries with high rates of compensable claims participated in focus groups to elicit personal attributes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to support returning workers. From a multi-stage analysis of responses, return to work competencies were developed, allocated to clusters of related items, and incorporated into an online survey administered to rehabilitation professionals.

Results

Twenty-nine supervisors participated in five focus groups. The final model included 84 generic competencies, eight specific to mental health conditions, and two specific to musculoskeletal disorders. Survey respondents (n = 344) represented a variety of rehabilitation professionals and jurisdictions in Australia. Nearly all agreed that supervisors should receive training to support staff returning to work. Ninety of the 94 competencies were rated as very important or essential by at least 50% of respondents. The highest ratings were achieved by competencies relating to personal attributes, knowledge of RTW processes, and empathetic support of the worker.

Conclusions

Supervisors and rehabilitation professionals believe effective support of RTW requires a range of personal attributes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors. Our competency model should undergo workplace testing to evaluate its effectiveness.

Presentation 2: Supervisors' experiences with the return-to-work process of hospital workers that have been absent from work due to a health problem

Presented by: Mette Jensen Stochkendahl

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Authors

Stochkendahl MJ1, Myburgh C2, Young AE3, Hartvigsen J1,2

  1. Nordic Institute of Chiropractic and Clinical Biomechanics, Odense, Denmark
  2. Institute of Sports Science and Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  3. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Boston, USA

Abstract

Background

Supervisors are key stakeholders in successful return to work (RTW) because of their proximity with workers. Supervisors are ideally positioned to facilitate the RTW process because they have first-hand knowledge of both the worker and the workplace. Yet, supervisors can also hamper the RTW process if they do not have the necessary competencies, level of engagement, and communication with the worker. In Denmark, responsibility for securing the workers’ return to the workplace lies legislatively outside of the workplace, and the workplace is not routinely included in the RTW process. Previous research on supervisors roles in the RTW process have primarily been conducted in contexts where the workplace has organizational responsibility for the RTW process, and very little is known about supervisors’ roles in the Danish context.

Methods

We conducted an exploratory qualitative pilot study to understand the experience of managers who had been involved in RTW procedures, including the managers’ roles and contributions to the process. Using purposive sampling, 19 hospital supervisors in charge of conducting sick leave interviews participated in a face-to-face or focus group interview in order to identify barriers and facilitators for supporting absent workers in their RTW. Using an inductive approach, we first conducted five individual interviews followed by two focus group interviews with seven participants in each group. Data were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using a constant comparative analysis approach.

Results

The findings indicated that supervisors’ capacity to support returning workers was related to the 1) workers’ level of social capital, 2) early contact with the returning worker and a systematic approach to follow-up contacts, 3) organizational latitude to provide modified duties, and 4) duration of the required support. Several instances occurred where supervisors faced a dilemma of balancing ethical and managerial principles with requirements for keeping staff budgets. Moreover, supervisors continuously balanced considerations for the returning worker and his or her co-workers.

Conclusions

Supervisors are key stakeholders in the RTW process, but currently face dilemmas regarding principles of care, showing team considerations and keeping the budget for staffing.

Presentation 3: Supervisors' perspectives on accommodating back injured workers: A grounded theory study

Presented by: Kelly Williams-Whitt

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Authors

Williams-Whitt K1, Kristman VL2,3,4,5, Shaw WS6, Soklaridis S7, Loisel P5

  1. University of Lethbridge, Calgary, Canada
  2. Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada
  3. Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Thunder Bay, Canada
  4. Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada
  5. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
  6. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Hopkinton, United States
  7. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada

Abstract

Background

Supervisors are important gatekeepers and facilitators of job modifications. However, little is known about the factors that shape a supervisor’s decision when accommodating an injured worker. Supervisors may be influenced by factors such as their beliefs about pain, the nature of the job, organizational policies and procedures, operational issues, or the pre-existing supervisor/worker relationship. The objective of this study is to understand the decision-making process used by supervisors when implementing workplace accommodation for workers with back pain.

Methods

Grounded theory methods of data collection and analysis were used. Interviews with 23 supervisors were conducted from 11 organizations, both public and private sector. Supervisors were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol. Interviews lasted between 30 and 90 minutes. They were recorded, transcribed and entered into NVivo software. Researchers analyzed five cases, seeking recurring themes, categories and relationships among them. A detailed coding guide was developed and used to code the remaining cases. Relationships between categories and themes were analyzed in order to develop an explanatory model.

Results

Preliminary results indicate that the most important factor considered by the supervisor is job demand-employee ability fit. Information to make this determination is provided by the employee’s physician, the occupational health and safety department, human resources and/or the back-injured employee. Accurate information regarding limitations and restrictions is particularly important, but not always available. Supervisors rely on their own knowledge of job demands to determine whether modification to fit the employee’s abilities is possible. Additional categories emerging in the data include: trust, experimentation, beliefs about responsibility, coworker management, productivity, and accommodation costs.

Conclusions

Most managers feel their discretion with respect to accommodating back-injured workers is considerably curtailed by legal requirements and organizational policies. They perceive their role to be important but not independent. Understanding the level of discretion they exercise and how they exercise it can help shape programs aimed at reducing disability absence through supervisor training.

Presentation 4: Employer dilemmas in the social responsibility and organization of return-to-work in local workplace practice

Presented by: Christian Ståhl

Authors

Seing I1, MacEachen E2, Ekberg K3, Ståhl C4

  1. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  2. Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada
  3. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  4. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

Abstract

Background

Many Western welfare states have introduced early-return-to-work policies, in which getting sick-listed people back to work before they have fully recovered is presented as a rather unproblematic approach. This reflects a belief in the ability of employers and the workplace to solve society's problems of sickness absence. How employers in practical work are managing return-to-work (RTW) in a modern workplace is however a rather uninvestigated and under-theorized research area. The aim of this study is to identify employers’ roles and activities in RTW in local workplace practice.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 matched pairs of supervisors and workers across 18 workplaces. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze 36 interviews. The analytic approach to study employers’ roles and activities in RTW was based on the three-domain model of social corporate responsibility. The model illustrates corporations’ linkage with their social environment and consists of three responsibility areas: economic, legal and ethical in which corporations’ activities take place.

Results

Employers’ RTW activities intersected the economic, the legal and the ethical domains. While these domains were simultaneously overlapping, it was clear how the economic dominated the employers’ activities in RTW. Economic demands in working life challenged employers’ ability to take social responsibility for RTW. Employers’ RTW strategies consisted of either ‘RTW activities’ or ‘transition activities’ which were applied differently depending on how valued the sick-listed workers were considered to be to their business and character of job (e.g. ready availability of suitable work accommodations). Legal demands had little practical influence on employers’ RTW strategies, since these could support both RTW and transition approaches.

Conclusions

Employers were in a ‘in-between’ position of legal demands to take a rehabilitation role in society and economic demands to meet interests and needs of their business. The employers’ approach to sick-listed workers was dominated by an economic perspective where needs and interests of their business guided their role and activities in RTW.