Organizational Wellness

How to Implement a Return to Work Program: Advantages for Employees and Employers

Oct 26, 2023
Last Updated May 10, 2024

Life's full of twists and turns, but as an HR leader, you have the power to bring some stability to your employees' lives.

Injuries or other unfortunate events in an employee's life can significantly disrupt their career and make it challenging for them to return to work at full capacity. But fear not — the solution lies in implementing a return to work program, a game-changer for both your employees and your organization.

But what exactly is a return to work program, you ask? These innovative programs are tailor-made to offer the support and resources your employees need to recover from setbacks and rejoin the workforce in a safer and more effective manner. A back to work program can make a dramatic difference in the life of an employee who has suffered debilitating physical, mental, or emotional injuries that might otherwise cost them their career.

Get ready to discover the countless advantages of return to work programs for both your employees and your organization. We'll also walk you through the steps to set up a transformative program. Let's jump right in.


The Advantages of Return to Work Programs

Severe injuries can take weeks or even months to recover from, and some injuries may leave an employee with long-term side effects or even permanent disability. For example, according to Harvard Medical School, traumatic brain injuries may require over a year of rehabilitation before someone might even be able to live independently, let alone return to a normal work environment.

After such a long absence, employees can’t be expected to immediately return to the way things were before their injury, especially if, in the case of severe injuries like traumatic brain injury, their recovery may still be ongoing.

In cases like these, a back to work program can provide massive benefits for both employer and employee. For an employee, these benefits can include:

  • Faster recovery: Return to work programs can help employees recover more quickly from injuries or illnesses by providing them with the necessary support and resources. These programs often involve personalized rehabilitation plans, modified work tasks, and access to medical professionals, facilitating a smoother recovery process.
  • Improved financial stability: Returning to work sooner enables employees to avoid prolonged periods of unpaid leave, ensuring that they can maintain their income and financial stability. By reducing the financial strain caused by extended absences, return to work programs contribute to the overall wellbeing of employees.
  • Increased sense of purpose: Work provides individuals with a sense of purpose and social connection, which are crucial for their overall wellbeing and recovery. Return to work programs allow employees to regain their sense of purpose by reintegrating them into their work environment and providing opportunities for social interaction.
  • Skill retention: Staying away from work for an extended period can result in skill degradation and decreased employability. Return to work programs help employees retain their skills and stay up-to-date with changes in their field, ensuring that they remain competitive in the job market.

Advantages of return to work programs for employers include:

  • Reduced costs: Implementing a return to work program can significantly reduce costs associated with employee absenteeism and turnover. By facilitating the return of employees to the workplace, these programs minimize productivity losses, recruitment expenses, and training costs that would arise from having to hire and train new employees.
  • Improved employee morale: Supporting employees who try to return to work after an injury or illness demonstrates an employer's commitment to their wellbeing. This support fosters a positive work environment, leading to improved employee morale, job satisfaction, and loyalty.
  • Increased productivity: Return to work programs help employers keep employees engaged and productive, even if they are unable to perform all their regular job duties. By providing modified work tasks or temporary accommodations, employers can ensure that valuable skills and expertise are utilized, minimizing productivity losses and maintaining business operations.
  • Legal compliance: Many jurisdictions have laws and regulations that require employers to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities or medical conditions. Implementing a return to work program helps employers comply with these legal requirements and mitigate potential legal liabilities.

These advantages and more make the implementation of a back to work program a worthy investment for any organization.

How to Implement a Return to Work Program

To successfully set up a return to work program, your company or organization could benefit from appointing a dedicated Return to Work (RTW) Coordinator. This person should be a trusted employee with good administrative and people skills. Among their other duties, your RTW coordinator will oversee your program, ensuring its smooth implementation and coordinating with the relevant stakeholders.

Additionally, specific tasks within the return to work plan can be delegated to department heads or managers. This approach allows for greater contact with employees who require additional support or accommodations. Department heads or managers can play an integral role in facilitating the transition of employees back into the workforce and ensuring their needs are met.

Once you have the right personnel on board, a back to work program can be implemented with these suggested five steps:

  1. Communicate with employees: Regular communication with employees is important if you want to understand their needs and identify areas where extra support may be required. Open and transparent communication channels, such as work environment surveys, will help provide employees with opportunities to express their concerns and discuss the accommodations they may need.
  2. Identify the need for a return to work program: Assess your organization's needs and evaluate the prevalence of injuries, illnesses, or other factors among your workforce that may require the implementation of a return to work program. This evaluation will help determine the resources and support you’ll need for the successful implementation of a program.
  3. Develop policies and procedures: Establish clear policies and procedures that will outline the steps employees and managers could  take as employees transition back to work. These policies might address aspects such as modified work tasks, temporary accommodations, and the process for assessing an employee's readiness to return to full capacity.
  4. Train managers and supervisors: Provide mindful leadership and give comprehensive training to managers and supervisors on the implementation and management of your return to work program. This training might cover topics such as recognizing signs of employee distress, facilitating open communication, and understanding legal requirements related to accommodations.
  5. Monitor and evaluate the program: Regularly monitor and evaluate your return to work program to ensure it is being effective. Collect feedback from employees, track key metrics — such as the time it takes employees to return to full capacity — and make necessary adjustments to optimize the outcomes of your program.

Implementing a return to work program brings numerous advantages for both employees and employers. By following the steps outlined in this article, your organization can effectively implement a return to work program and create a more supportive and inclusive work environment in the process.

And here's the exciting twist — there's an extra level of support you can offer your team. Crafting a customized wellness program, designed with your employees in mind, is the next best step. Ready to boost the wellbeing of your workforce? Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist and make employee wellbeing a part of your organization's DNA.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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