Journal of Employe Assistance 1st Quarter 2019

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Page 30

featurearticle Orchestrating Return to Work: Turning Noise into Music | By Tyler Arvig, Psy.D., LP; and Kevin Hayford, SHRM, SCP


eturning to work after a behavioral health absence is a pivotal time for employees whose lives have been affected by mental illness. It is also, unfortunately, a juncture when competing demands, interests, and motivations may or may not be in the best interest of the employee. Defining the Problem When return-to-work cases fail, there is rarely one specific cause. Factors associated with successful/non-successful work return can be individual (i.e. symptoms of illness, poor motivation); professional (i.e. lack of provider engagement or understanding; HR professionals’ lack of engagement) or systemic (i.e. feeling lack of family or community support, a workplace that has policies in place that hinder progress; and a disability system that encourages remaining off work). Despite what is known about the efficacy and cost-efficiency of temporary workplace accommodations upon return to work, EA providers often fail to utilize resources such as the Job Accommodation Network ( JAN has published data showing that the majority of accommodations have zero cost to the employer; are perceived positively by the employer and employee; and help retain talent and negate costs associated with hir-

ing another employee (Benefits and Costs of Accommodation, n.d.). Knowing the Players EA Providers: EA providers have an important role in return to work. This may involve a mindset shift from traditional clinical work. While mental health professionals are well versed in treating symptoms, conditions, and helping solve problems; they are not typically trained on how functional assessment relates to the workplace. Given their training, they are prime candidates for serving as return-to-work coaches; applying clinical skills and knowledge to the world of work. The authors believe that EA providers are critical in maintaining a focus on functional improvement; removing barriers to return to work, whether external or intrapsychic; serving as a coach and cheerleader for workplace success; and offering a bridge between the worlds of behavioral health and work. HR Professionals: The human resource representative, along with the employee’s supervisor will negotiate and weigh the risks and rewards of the return-towork plan on behalf of the employer and the employee. The HR representative is the keystone that pulls all the pieces together to ensure that the plan will be successful. It should always

be the goal to return the employee to work as soon as they are able to safely; without risk to themselves, their co-workers or the employer. Both HR and the EA provider may need to coordinate the communication with other parties involved on a case-by-case basis, which may include disability insurance provider, workers’ compensation provider, the employee’s legal representative, and possibly family or a guardian. Family members may play a role as trusted advisors to the employee, and as witnesses to the effectiveness of the work return plan. Additionally, physicians may have medical or medication input in the work return process. There may also be an occupational health nurse or on-site physician that needs to be consulted. It is critical for EA providers to know who has a stake in the process, as recommendations or plans are affected by these individuals. Effective/Appropriate Communication is Vital Open communication between the employee and EA professional is at the heart of effective treatment. The EA provider must communicate about returning to work as early and as often as possible, since improving functioning and returning to normalcy must be an integral part of the treatment plan. The authors have witnessed hundreds of cases where a

30 | JOURNAL OF EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE | 1st Quarter 2019 | •• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • | W W W . E A PA S S N . O R G |