A workers’ compensation survey of 3000 injured workers in four states has found six key factors that keep employees from making a speedy return to work, with one of them being distrust of their bosses.
The research by the Workers Compensation Research Institute also discovered that the workers most likely to stay out longest are older, less educated and have suffered back injuries or fractures.
WCRI’s study, done in California, Texas, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, also discovered that workers less likely to return to work or who were out of work longer were those who had initially more severe injuries, experienced less effective recoveries and were part-time employees.
Workers in the category of those who reported less-trusting relationships with their supervisors, were 5 to 16 percentage points less likely to return to work and were out of work 33 to 164 percent longer after injuries, WCRI found.
The longer absences for injuries were noted among employees who expressed concern that supervisors thought they were “faking” injuries.
On the other side of this coin, the researchers noted that supervisors’ concerns about faking might be legitimate and their estimates “may be a composite both of low trust of their supervisors…and supervisors’ suspicion of fraud on the part of injured workers.”
The researchers pointed out the cost effectiveness of training managers to improve employee relations. As an example, they said a California company with 200 employees and five managers could invest $15,000 in training==less than the $19,400 it would cost the company if four workers were off longer because of poor relations with supervisors.
Other research data from the study showed that workers ages 55 and older, when compared to workers between the ages of 25 and 39, were 12 to 35 percentage points less likely to return to work and are out of work 62 to 276 percent longer.
WCRI said by 2012, there will be 11 million more workers over the age of 55 in the U.S. labor force, creating unique demands on employers’ return to work programs.
WCRI’s analysis found that workers with high school diplomas return to work 10-to- 16 weeks faster than high school dropouts, and workers with only a grade-school education were out of work 2- to 4.5-times longer than high school graduates.
A consistent predictor of return-to-work outcomes was a worker’s perception of the initial severity of the injury and the effectiveness of recoveries, the survey found.
WCRI said policies that impact the physical consequences of an injury by minimizing injury severity and promoting more effective recoveries have the potential to improve average return-to-work outcomes by as much as 15 weeks.
Workers with back injuries were out of work 35 to 108 percent longer than workers with inflammations, lacerations and contusions. So disability prevention and return-to-work programs that target back injuries may present “win-win” opportunities for employers and workers, WCRI said.
The study is a refinement of data obtained from surveys completed in 2003 when initial results were released, said Sharon Fox, one of the study team members.