This free-to-use training activity is particularly useful if you are running a ‘Return to Work’ workshop or class and especially so if you are providing guidance on return to work adjustments.

Supporting your employees who come back after an absence, particularly a long absence, needs planning and one aspect of that planning is to consider making adjustments (accommodations in the USA) for the employee returning.

This activity will help your participants to learn about how to plan reasonable adjustments/accommodations for an employee who is returning from a long absence.

Return to work adjustments planning training activity

Activity Time-Frame

15 minutes is an ideal time frame for this activity. This will mean 10 minutes for small groups of participants to work on the task together and then 5 minutes for a class discussion and feedback.

Starting the Activity

Start this return to work adjustments activity by asking participants to form groups of 4.

Give each group a piece of A1 paper and some colored markers.

Then, ask each group to discuss the case studies on the slide (see image below) and think of what adjustments they would put in place for these employees.

Return to work adjustmenta PPT
>> PowerPoint PPT slides from the return to Work training materials

Ask each group to jot down the answers on the A1 piece of paper.

The case studies do not specify the type of job that each employee does, so that it can be left to you and/ or the participants to decide and adapt the examples based, for example, on the industry they work in.

Depending on how much time you have and the number of groups, you can ask each group to cover all four case studies or you can assign one or two case studies per group.

Give participants 10 minutes for the small group discussion.

Allow another 5 minutes to discuss with the class as a whole.

If you are teaching online

Allocate participants in virtual breakout rooms. They can use the chat facility or a virtual whiteboard to write down their answers.

At the end of the group discussion, bring all participants back together to the main room to discuss with the whole class.

Examples of Solutions for Each Case Study

Case study A: An employee who needs a wheelchair following an accident

In the situation where a member of staff is returning and now needs wheelchair access because of an accident, the employer can, for example:

  • Change the work surface area, so the wheelchair can fit in
  • Provide suitable car parking space
  • Make structural changes such as widening doors; providing ramps and relocating light switches, door handles, or shelves for someone who has difficulty in reaching.
  • Relocate the workstation to the ground floor if it is easier to access.

From this example, do not forget that return to work adjustments can also include the need to provide assistance and help in ways that the employee might not have previously needed, such as because of an injury.

Case study B: An employee who suffers from diabetes.

For a returning employee who now needs to consider diabetes because of a new health diagnosis, the employer can do many things and some examples include:

  • Allow more frequent breaks to get the right amount of food or drinks at the right times throughout the day and for blood sugar tests and injections.
  • Assign the employee to a workstation near the toilets, in case they need to access the toilet urgently.
  • Provide flexible working options.
Classroom lesson plans

Case study C: An employee who is back following a prolonged period of mental illness.

Potential work adjustments can include:

  • Provide a phased return to work
  • Provide a position in a non-public-facing role, if available, and if their condition makes it stressful for the employee to deal with members of the public.
  • Offer flexible working hours for the employee to attend appointments with their therapist
  • Provide quiet areas for the employee to work in times of stress.
  • Offer the employee a wellness and recovery action plan.
  • Foster a culture of mental health awareness in the workplace.

Case study D: An employee who has been off for a long time due to lower back pain and sciatica.

Some ideas that an employer can use in this scenario include:

  • Offer a more sedentary job, if available and if their original role was physically demanding.
  • Has their workstation been assessed by an occupational health specialist to make sure that the employee can maintain a good posture and avoid straining?
  • Allow regular breaks to stretch their legs and mobilize their back.
  • Offer flexible working hours for the employee to attend appointments with their physiotherapist
  • Make sure the employee avoids activities that strain the back such as heavy or unassisted lifting, pulling, or pushing; overhead work, or repetitive rotation of the back.
  • Allow the employee to avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing. For example, provide regular breaks if the employee works at a desk so they can stand up and walk around, or provide a stool to an employee who works at a shop counter so they can sit down when needed.

Return to Work Adjustments Examples

Return to work examples

Example 1: Symonds Solutions

Scenario

Sarah Smith, a software engineer at Symonds Solutions, had been on medical leave due to a wrist injury that made typing difficult and painful.

As she prepared to return to work, she told her manager that she was worried about being able to do her duties properly and effectively with her condition.

Solution

The HR team at Symonds Solutions worked with Sarah to implement several return-to-work adjustments.

They provided ergonomic equipment such as an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, as well as a wrist support brace.

Additionally, they adjusted Sarah’s workload temporarily, allowing her to gradually ramp up her typing tasks to prevent further strain on her wrist.

Result

With the accommodations in place, Sarah was able to return to work smoothly and gradually regain her productivity.

The ergonomic equipment and adjusted workload significantly reduced her discomfort and allowed her to focus on her tasks effectively.

Example 2: Catania HealthPlus

Scenario

Marco Patel, a nurse at Catania HealthPlus, recently underwent surgery for a knee injury.

As he prepared to return to work, he was concerned about his ability to perform his duties, especially tasks that required prolonged standing and walking.

Solution

Catania HealthPlus collaborated with Marco to develop a return-to-work plan tailored to his needs.

To help Marco his company:

  • provided him with a height-adjustable chair to use during administrative tasks
  • allowed him to schedule breaks to rest his knee
  • and assigned him to lighter duties initially to ease him back into his regular responsibilities.

Result

With the accommodations in place, Marco was able to return to his nursing duties without exacerbating his knee injury.

The flexibility provided by the height-adjustable chair and scheduled breaks allowed him to manage his discomfort effectively, while the lighter workload initially helped him regain his confidence and physical capabilities gradually.

Example 3: Techla Supermarket Employee

Emily, a cashier at Techla Supermarket, was diagnosed with a vision impairment that affected her ability to read small print and recognize faces at a distance.

As she prepared to return to work, she raised her worries about being able to properly perform her cashier duties effectively.

Solution

Techla Supermarket worked with Emily to implement various return-to-work adjustments.

They provided her with a magnifying glass to help her read small print on product labels and implemented a buddy system where a coworker would assist her with identifying customers from a distance when needed.

Result

With the accommodations in place, Emily was able to return to her cashier duties with confidence.

The magnifying glass helped her overcome challenges related to reading small print, while the buddy system ensured that she could effectively assist customers without straining her vision.

As a result, Emily’s performance remained consistent, and she felt supported in her role at Techla Supermarket.

Example 4: Holmet Construction

Scenario

David Ramirez, a construction worker at Holmet Construction, sustained a back injury while working.

As he prepared to return to work, he expressed concerns about the physical demands of his role and the risk of re-injury.

Solution

Holmet Construction collaborated with David to develop a return-to-work plan focused on minimizing the risk of further injury.

They provided him with a back support belt to wear during tasks that involved lifting heavy objects and implemented a rotation system where David would alternate between tasks that required physical exertion and those that were less strenuous.

Result

With the accommodations in place, David was able to return to his construction duties with a reduced risk of re-injury.

The back support belt provided him with the necessary support during physically demanding tasks, while the rotation system allowed him to manage his workload effectively and avoid overexertion.

David’s return to work was successful, and he was able to resume his duties without experiencing any setbacks.

Example 5: Pedara Tech

Scenario

Lisa Anderson, a customer support representative at Pedara Tech, experienced a mental health crisis that required her to take an extended leave of absence.

As she prepared to return to work, she expressed concerns about managing her workload and interacting with customers.

Solution

Pedara Tech worked with Lisa to develop a return-to-work plan that prioritized her mental health and well-being.

They provided her with access to counseling services and adjusted her work schedule to allow for regular therapy sessions.

Additionally, they implemented a buddy system where a coworker would assist Lisa with challenging customer interactions until she felt more comfortable.

Result

With the provisions in place, Lisa was able to return to her role at Pedara Tech feeling supported and empowered.

The access to counseling services helped her manage her mental health effectively, while the adjusted work schedule ensured that she could prioritize her well-being without compromising her job responsibilities.

The buddy system provided her with additional support during customer interactions, allowing her to gradually regain her confidence and effectiveness in her role.

Lisa’s return to work was successful, and she was able to thrive in her position with the support of her employer.

Return to Work PowerPoint and PPT slides
Learn about the ‘Return to Work ‘Training Materials
Dr Valeria Lo Iacono