Why Working is Good for Your HealthMar 17, 2023
Working not only has many economic and social benefits, but it can be good for your overall health. There are many reasons employees take leave off work: physical and mental disabilities, injuries, pregnancy, family emergencies and many more. Sickness is another reason why someone may leave work. But staying off work for an extended period of time can actually cause health problems. And the reverse has shown to be true: returning to the workplace can have many positive outcomes for both mental and physical health.
Unemployment Is a Health Hazard
Simply being off work can be bad for your health. Research shows that unemployment has been associated with decreases in mental, family, social, and economic well-being and has specific adverse mental health outcomes. The Psychiatric Annals reports that “although sickness can sometimes cause unemployment, the converse situation of unemployment causing sickness…is a frequent serious problem that can be anticipated, proactively addressed, and prevented.”
Researchers report the following adverse consequences of unemployment1:
- Greater morbidity
- Family issues/tension
- Increased risk of hospitalization due to alcohol-related conditions, traffic accidents, and self-harm
- More psychological problems (distress, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, subjective well-being, self-esteem)
- Decreased economic well-being
- Social stigma and isolation
- Learned helplessness
- External locus of control
- Loss of identity
- Premature aging
- Increase risk of death and suicide
The Positive Outcomes of Return to Work
While being off work can be bad for your health, returning to work has shown to have many positive outcomes on mental and physical well-being.
Researchers report the following positive outcomes of returning to work1:
- Better financial status
- Improves physical health
- Benefits for mental health (may decrease depressive symptoms)
- Increases confidence and self-efficacy
- Stabilizes routine
- Strengthens sense of identity
Why Stay at Work?
While time off from work can allow employees and employers to assess the situation and develop a plan, keeping employees at work has the best overall outcomes. Studies show that “the odds for return to full employment drop to 50/50 after 6 months of absence”1. Research also shows that most time away from work is not medically required and that increased symptoms do not necessarily mean poor functioning/inability to work. Employees who can be provided accommodations to stay at work may be able to complete the full demands of their job or the essential functions of their job. This will depend on how the employee’s symptoms affect essential functioning and should be assessed by a healthcare professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, who can help determine appropriate accommodations.
What Can Employers Do?
- Prepare policies and procedures that support attendance for individuals with disabilities.
- Provide processes that allow employees to be accommodated in the workplace.
- Train managers on ways to manage employees with disabilities and ensure performance of work duties that are within the employee’s capabilities.
- Coach managers and employees through the accommodation processes.
- Prepare a business case for accommodations in the workplace to ensure that senior management supports the resources needed to accommodate individuals.
- Gain senior management commitment through regular reporting.
- Develop evaluation tools that will allow programs to be improved.
- Stay up to date on the latest accommodation resources, legal decisions and case law that impacts your business.
- Develop a team of resources to assist you in the accommodation process.
- Ensure that you have measurement for the services provided that evaluates the outcomes by both the managers and the employees.
- Connect with your colleagues and network on state-of-the-art processes and program tools.
- Attend training programs that will allow you to manage the accommodations in your workplace effectively.
- Hire an Occupational Therapist to complete an accommodation assessment.
Points to remember when communicating with an employee with a disability:
- The individual is a worker – focus on return to work early and discuss return to work at the first opportunity after the injury and illness.
- Focus on what the individual can do at work. (Use the “Can Do, Can’t Do, Maybe Do checklist.”)
- Acknowledge safety and restrictions and ensure the modified work adheres to this.
- Offer support and coping strategies and suggestions at the workplace.
- Focus on the individual as a valued employee doing meaningful and productive work.
- Deal with issues regarding relationships or communication at work
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
The return to work process is not always easy, but we believe it is always worth it. Gowan Consulting can provide professionals to your workplace to assist with creating a return to work plan, facilitating a return to work meeting, and providing return to work support. Upon a full return to work, our Occupational Therapists can provide stay at work strategies to give the employee confidence that relapse will not occur. For preventative action to help keep employees at work, we can provide an accommodation assessment to determine the functional capabilities of an employee, recommend any necessary equipment, and offer tools and strategies. Make a referral or contact us to learn more about all the ways we can assist you in the workplace!
 Couser, G. P., Morrison, D. E., Brown, A. O., & Agarwal, G. (2021). Is separation from the workplace a psychiatric emergency? The role of the clinician and the consultant. Psychiatric Annals, 51(2), 58-63. https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20210105-02