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Obstacles for Line Managers

Tackling Common Health Problems - Quick Guide for Line Managers


Muscle and joint problems, stress, anxiety, depression


Helping your workers stay active and working


You – the employer, line manager, or supervisor – have an important role to play: use this guide to help you help your colleagues




Most people get problems such as episodes of muscle and joint pain, or feeling stressed or down. Sometimes the onset may be from physical activity but more often there’s no obvious cause. Usually there is nothing to worry about: serious injury or damage is rare.


Recovery is expected but symptoms such as pain, fatigue, or worry may recur. Back pain is a good example: activity is generally helpful – prolonged rest is not; most people get better and back to work quickly - but some hit problems.

Muscle and joint pain is very costly when people are off work for too long. The old approach of staying off work actually makes matters worse. Early return to work is usually beneficial.


But people need help to stay at or get back to work. And, it’s not enough to rely on doctors and other clinicians - the workplace needs to be accommodating.


People often struggle to get back to work. It’s usually not because of a more serious injury. It’s because they face obstacles: things about the person, the workplace, or the context.


Identify Obstacles

You can spot the obstacles to activity and work by looking for things will get in the way. Mostly you’ll be looking for workplace obstacles, but you need to work with the other players (doctors, health and safety reps, etc.).

Identification is about looking for unhelpful behaviours and circumstances. Antyhing about the person, the workplace or the circumstances (including influential others) that stands in the way of early return to work is an obstacle.

Plan of Action


Goals: set a time for getting back to modified duties and to usual work.


Can do? list can-do tasks and jobs (not just can’t do)


Obstacles: list what’s getting in the way of getting back to work: job factors, personal factors, context factors – list who needs to tackle them


What and when? figure out the steps needed to overcome the obstacles, set a timeline: appoint someone to act as a support buddy/case manager.


What To Do


Taking action is all about overcoming obstacles at work. It means providing an accommodating workplace, with helpful policies and coordinated actions. It’s not complicated.

  • Contact the absent person within a day or two

  • Tell them the workplace will be supportive

  • Point out the return-to-work buddy who will be their case manager (perhaps the supervisor)

  • Ask the person to come in to work to sort out the return plan

  • Ask the doctor what the worker can do:

  • Get their permission to talk with the doctor: use a confidentiality waiver (the worker gives explicit written permission for (selected) people to talk freely with the doctor/therapist)

  • Assess the job, and offer modified work (if necessary) for a fixed period

  • Allow graduated return to work plans, that offer gradual increase in hours and participation

  • Monitor progress: revise the plan if any setbacks


Modified work


Early return to work can be helped by simple modifications to the person’s job. This is a temporary step simply to gradually ease them into usual work. Getting over the obstacles:

Alter the work to reduce physical demands: e.g. reduce reaching; provide seating; reduce weights; reduce pace of work/frequency; enable help from co-workers; vary tasks.


Alter the work organisation: e.g. reduced work hours/days; additional rest breaks; graded return to work; home working

Flexibility: e.g. daily planning sessions with a buddy; allow time to attend healthcare appointments; help with transport

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