Have you ever experienced something that turned your life upside-down? Something that suddenly got in the way of all your daily routines, shifted your family relationships and ripped away your sense of purpose and meaning?
Any work injury that keeps an employee from performing his or her regular job can have this type of impact.
While you’re busy keeping your organization running without them, it’s easy to forget all of the negative social and psychological impacts a work injury can have on the injured worker.
The good news is, there are things employers can do to help provide some relief.
Injured workers at high risk for depression
For many employees, work is more than just a paycheck. It’s a place where they are socially connected and a source of identity.
Take that away, and it’s easy to get to an emotionally dark place, especially when they’re facing struggles in other areas of their lives as well.
Following a work injury, depression is a real risk. A study by the Institute for Work and Health of workers who missed at least five days of work due to work-related musculoskeletal injuries showed that half frequently felt symptoms of depression in the year following their injuries.
Some of the not-so-obvious effects work injuries can have on your employees include:
- Struggles with tasks of daily life: Even a seemingly minor injury can make everyday tasks like taking a shower, changing clothes, going up stairs and carrying items challenging or impossible.
- Extreme loneliness: Many injuries make it impossible to drive and unwise to be out in public where a fall or bump could set back the healing process. This means injured workers can feel isolated and trapped in their homes. While they could call or email friends and coworkers, the injured employees might fear being a bother.
- Stress on the family: If an injury prevents the worker from doing tasks like cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, child care or other household duties, a spouse or other family member might be left picking up the slack. Injured workers might also have to miss out on important family events like kids’ sports games, birthday parties and shows.
- Guilt, shame and frustration: Injured workers might blame themselves for their injuries and feel ashamed. There’s also guilt about the extra work that coworkers are having to take on in their absence, and that family and friends are taking on to help out during their recovery. Setbacks that lengthen the recovery process can also lead to feelings of extreme frustration.
- Worry about the future: During long days alone, injured workers might have feelings of worthlessness or start thinking that they’ve been forgotten. They might reason that if their employer is getting by without them, maybe they aren’t needed. They may worry they won’t have a job to return to after they recover, and that they won’t be able to pay bills.
What employers can do to help injured workers
With some thought, intentionality and a little time, employers can help make life easier and brighter for injured workers.
Following are a few ways employers can help provide some relief:
- Bring them back to work as soon as possible: The Institute for Work and Health study showed that frequent symptoms of depression were more common in injured workers who were not able to return to work and stay at work. Early return-to-work helps employees stay active and engaged and maintain relationships with coworkers, which all benefit their psychological well-being. This might mean finding a temporary, light-duty position.
- Stay in contact: Checking in with phone calls or emails can mean a lot to an injured worker. It lets them know you care and that they’re missed. It also helps you keep track of their condition so that you can bring them back to work as soon as they’re able.
- Help them maintain other connections to the workplace: Invite them to company social events if they’re medically able to attend. Ask if they want to hear from coworkers and let others know if they’d like contact.
Work injuries are always tough on employees, but you can help ease the pain a little by showing concern and letting them know they haven’t been forgotten. Even small gestures mean a lot, and can help keep your employee’s spirits up through recovery.