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Managing and mitigating suffering in the return-to-work process

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 05:02 authored by Megan WoodsMegan Woods, Mandy MatthewsonMandy Matthewson
Each year thousands of workers experience a serious illness or injury that necessitates time off work and a subsequent re-engagement with the work environment. In Australia, workers’ compensation legislation mandates the return-to-work (RTW) process is formal, structured, and negotiated between the worker, their employer, health care professionals and their RTW coordinator. How this is executed by those parties directly influences whether the RTW process is supportive and successful, or exacerbates the suffering of returning workers by causing them to feel ostracised, exposed, and vulnerable in their workplace. In this article, we examine how the RTW process can cause physical, emotional, social, and existential suffering for returning workers. We then discuss how the suffering that workers experience can be mitigated by five key factors: clarity of roles in the RTW process, alignment of worker and employer expectations, the advocacy provided by the RTW coordinator, the support provided for the worker’s psychological wellbeing, and the RTW literacy of supervisors and colleagues.


Publication title

Frontiers in Psychology



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Frontiers Research Foundation

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright © 2021 Woods and Matthewson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License ( The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Workplace safety