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A crutch for injured workers

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How important is mentoring the mentor upon return to work? Work Cover Queensland highlights the importance of communication between employers and employees, especially when it comes to workplace injuries.


Mentors or supervisors can at times be promoted into their role based on their technical experience rather than their people management skills.

For those new to people management, if one of their team members is injured at work, how do they deal with the responsibility of communicating with an injured worker? It can be hard to know what to do if they have never been in this position before.

Work Cover Queensland customer services manager Matt Cross said what can be a difficult time for an injured worker can also be a difficult time for the direct supervisor, if they’re not sure how to communicate with an injured worker.

“The relationship between an employee and their direct supervisor is crucial – an employee takes their direction from their direct supervisor,” Matt said.

“They come to work for them, so if they’re injured at work, open and two-way communication with their direct supervisor can be the key to getting them back at work quickly.”

A good approach, particularly for medium and large employers, is to have training programs for new supervisors where they can be mentored by a more experienced supervisor.

“In one large mining employer, there’s a training program where the new direct line supervisor is mentored by another crew supervisor,” he said.

“For a period of time, the crew supervisor will move teams and work in an operator role, and mentor upwards to the supervisor being trained.

“The success of any business does rely on the management and leadership of the direct line supervisors, as we appreciate when managing return to work programs.

“We can step supervisors through how to communicate with injured workers, and we have a guide that offers top tips for communicating with injured workers.”

These top tips for communication include:

  • Be empathetic in your communications
  • Make contact early and maintain that contact
  • Identify the most appropriate person to maintain contact – research has shown that injured workers like supervisors to maintain contact with them following an injury
  • Send them newsletters or company updates, or perhaps a get well card

Part of the supervisor’s discussions with the injured worker should cover when they feel they can return to work (if they’re not able to recover at work), what suitable duties they can perform, as well as any other concerns they may have, such as re-injury or the cause of the injury.

Matt said the aim is to make workers feel supported and a part of the team, so they’re aware they have a job to return to.

He added that it’s important not to make the discussion just about the injury.

“Ask how they are in general and how the family is, etc. This way the worker knows that a supervisor cares about them as a person, not just about the injury,” Matt said.

“In doing so, a supervisor will not only be helping an injured worker get their life back on track, they’ll be reducing the impact to the worker’s team and the workplace, which is better for morale and the overall bottom line.”

Tips to help supervisors to prepare for conversations with their injured worker include:

  • Remain positive when speaking to your employee and avoid placing blame about the injury
  • Focus on things the worker can do, rather than what they can’t
  • Encourage them to focus on their recovery from injury
  • Listen to any concerns raised and address these promptly
  • Ask your worker when they feel they could return to work, and you look forward to them returning

It is important to support new managers in various parts of their role, and WorkCover Human Resources Manager Elle Ackland shares some ideas to help boost the skills of new or future managers:

  • Work together with your HR department to equip new managers with softer skills, such as communicating in difficult situations
  • Identify managers who have strong communication skills to share these techniques with new managers in a mentor program
  • Put in place a formal succession plan, where those with potential leadership qualities are developed before they move into management roles
  • Undertake an individual training needs assessment to identify opportunities of growth. This may include identifying whether internal training, external training or a formal tertiary program is suitable to support ongoing development
  • Consider a 360 degree feedback survey, where performance feedback is received from team member – this helps new managers become aware of their leadership style.

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

The WorkCover website provides more information and guidance on communicating with ill or injured workers.

For more information or to discuss your particular situation call WorkCover Queensland on 1300 362 128 or visit www.worksafe.qld.gov.au.


“The relationship between an employee and their direct supervisor is crucial – an employee takes their direction from their direct supervisor.”
Matt Cross
WorkCover Queensland


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