• Work-place injuries occur and can result in workers being off work for weeks or months

  • Being off work can make injured people’s health outcomes worse[1]

  • There are benefits for both employers and workers for an injured employees returning to work

Behavioural insights have been used around the world to help people return to work after an injury or unemployment. We wanted to see if similar techniques could help injured workers in Australia return to work.

We worked with NSW Treasury Managed Fund, insurer Allianz and the Department of Education to see if personalising support for each worker and encouraging them to actively participate in the recovery process would help them get well sooner.  

Understanding the context and building a new approach

We undertook research to better understand the process of and challenges faced by employees when trying to return to work after an injury. It was clear that the injured employees had to deal with large amounts of paperwork and the process was complex and confusing.  

Another observation was that workers weren’t taking an active role in developing or contributing to their Injury Management Plan. Rather than engaging workers in developing the plan, it was largely set by medical professionals, the insurer and the employer, with little coordination between these three groups.

We developed a new approach to working with injured workers. This included:

  • simplifying and reducing communications to workers

  • clearly communicating the responsibilities of the worker, insurer and employer

  • developing messages focusing on recovery and returning to work rather than about being injured

  • encouraging workers to make commitments that support their return to work, for example, I will do all the exercises that my physio tells me to do

To support this new approach, case managers were trained and coached to focus more on building relationships with injured workers and achieving health and employment outcomes, than satisfying process requirements.

Testing the effectiveness of the approach

We tested this new approach in a trial. Injured workers were divided into two groups:

  • one group received the new approach

  • group two received the normal services

The trial ran for 10 months and 1,700 people were included in the trial.

We measured results after 90 days. The trial found that people returned to work 27 per cent faster in the first 90 days when they received the new approach compared with people in group two.