What to do when a worker's personality is making return to work difficult

As a return to work coordinator, how might you work with difficult personalities?


Dealing with difficult personalities

None of us leave our personalities at the door when we enter our workplace. 

When someone is injured—psychologically or physically or both—their personality and coping strategies will often determine how they approach rehabilitation and return to work (RTW).

It is obviously not helpful or advisable to accuse people of having a personality 'disorder' even if they are challenging to manage. 

As a guideline, however, those workers who have a sense of 'justice' or entitlement or are avoidant can often be difficult to help with RTW planning and may interpret actions by the employer, WorkSafe agent or the occupational rehabilitation (OR) provider negatively or cynically. 

To give some idea of what I mean, let's take these three different perspectives and look at how a RTW coordinator might respond to get the best outcome for both the employer and the injured worker.

1. Sense of (in)justice

Possible scenario

the injured worker is keen to see that whoever or whatever is 'to blame' for their injury is brought to account and struggles to get past this issue even if there is an outcome from the investigation of the incident that lead to their injury.

Return to work coordinator response

the worker's need for revenge, retribution or someone taking responsibility for the worker's injury is understandable but even where found, cannot turn back the clock. Make sure that you are empathetic and involve the worker and keep them informed in any incident investigation whilst still maintaining the focus on the present. This includes concentrating on the worker's safe return to work and any specific parameters and requirements of a RTW plan to help the worker move forward.

2. Sense of entitlement

Possible scenario

The injured worker is focused on their compensation entitlements; for example, to be fully recovered before RTW, to have their body back the way it was before, their need for a range of services etc to be paid for by the employer/agent before they can get back to work.

Return to work coordinator response

The worker's need to have their injury and its effects acknowledged means it is important to "give a bit to get a bit" here. For example, you might want to permit the worker to leave work early to see a treating practitioner as a way of demonstrating your validation of their need for treatment and support during their RTW and include this in their RTW plan.

3. Avoidant response

Possible scenario

The injured worker won't answer phone calls or talk to anyone from work. They (and sometimes their treating health practitioners as well) are difficult to engage. The worker does not seem to want to RTW.

Return to work coordinator response

A team approach is required here. With the worker's consent, you could meet with the worker and their treating health practitioner so that any fears and concerns about a RTW can be addressed. Advise the worker that they can also have a support person present if they would feel more comfortable.

In some cases it may be also appropriate for you and your WorkSafe agent to advise your worker of their obligations. If you remain stuck with this issue, talk to your WorkSafe agent and discuss your concerns. Your WorkSafe agent may involve a medical advisor to assist.

Solve return to work problems

Return to work coordinators play a valuable role in helping an injured worker get back to work. Find out how to solve common return to work problems to help you if you're having difficulty supporting an injured worker.

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