Call Centre Workplace Injuries | Best Practice Return To Work Programs

return to work programs for call centre workplace injuries

Call Centre Workplace Injuries | Best Practice Return To Work Programs

Call Centre Workplace injuries can and do occur and having an effective Return To Work (RTW) program is an essential part of business and an important part of agent recovery.

Effective programs reduce the financial and emotional impact on agents and promote employment security.

Benefits to business include better cost management by reducing disruptions to staff scheduling and turnover, minimising claims costs and impact on premiums, improve staff morale and workplace industrial relations.

With the increase in new recommendations and program options reported in journals, reviews and blogs, and a range of new service providers in the marketplace, how do you know your RTW program follows best practice?

This article seeks to help answer that question by summarising the findings of a new systematic review released in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

It then goes on to suggest how you might implement these findings to gain the greatest benefit for your people and the best value for your business.

The article, “Effectiveness of Workplace Interventions in Return-to-Work for Musculoskeletal, Pain-Related and Mental Health Conditions: An Update of the Evidence and Messages for Practitioners”  sort to synthesize “evidence on the effectiveness of workplace-based return-to-work (RTW) interventions and work disability management (DM) interventions that assist workers with musculoskeletal (MSK) and pain-related conditions and mental health (MH) conditions with RTW” (Abstract).

In other words, what makes an effective return-to-work program?

Elements or categories of Call Centre Workplace Injuries RTW programs

The authors found RTW programs might contain one or more of three core program categories:

  1. Health-focused interventions: delivering health care services such as “graded activity/exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, work hardening and multi-component health-focused interventions (which often included the above elements as well as: medical assessment, physical therapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy).
  2. Service coordination interventions: designed to better coordinate the delivery of, and access to, services to assist RTW within and involving the workplace. Coordination involves attempts to improve communication within the workplace or between the workplace and healthcare providers. Examples are the development of RTW plans, case management and education and training.
  3. Work modification interventions: These interventions alter the organisation of work or introduce modified working conditions. Examples are workplace accommodations such as the provision of modified duties, modified working hours, supernumerary replacements, ergonomic adjustments or other worksite adjustments” (p6).

Effective RTW programs

In Summary, the review found programs incorporating at least two of the three core program categories of health care, service coordination and workplace modifications were found to reduce time away from work and costs associated with MSK, pain-related conditions and MH conditions.

Programs that only included one of the key program areas had mixed results.

My Take

The most important outcome of any research is the application.

How can this research help you improve business outcomes?

This research describes the core categories of effective RTW programs in managing call centre workplace injuries.

It confirms that programs need to provide personal care for the individual agent (Health Care), implement workplace accommodation to ensure a swift return to work and reduce the chance of relapse (Workplace Modifications), and finally incorporate a process for clear communications and planning to effectively manage the RTW process (Service Coordination).

However, this speaks to the generic and not to the care of an actual individual. Successful programs must be personalised to meet the specific needs of the agent and the business. This includes agents knowing when and how to ask for help and managers knowing the type of support needed and effectively providing that support with minimal time, effort and cost.

To go beyond a cookie cutter program there are stages before and after the RTW stage that ensure the greats benefits.

To design an effective program, the business must capture the right information to refine the program and then review the outcomes to ensure the program has been successful and any new findings/knowledge can be built into future programs.

Return to work model

The Roles and Responsibilities of Stakeholders in managing call centre workplace injuries

Every stakeholder must provide the right information to create effective Return To Work programs. Briefly, these are:

Role of the Agent

Diary notes

Call centre agents must make a diary note when pain or discomfort starts. These include the nature and location of the pain, activities undertaken in the previous 24 hours (not just at work and not just unusual or additional) and how the health issue affected their work.

The agent also notes steps taken and on which days, to help elevate that pain. This should include any incurred costs.

These notes are especially important in computer-based work environments due to the nature of soft tissue and work-related upper limb disorders. Soft tissue or repetitive strain injuries creep up on an agent, slowly getting worse over time.

It is hard to remember when the discomfort started and hard associate any one event that led to a health issue or injury.

In addition, dairy notes are very important to help HR and allied health services design the right initial and ongoing care and the right RTW program for agents.

Knowledge of in-house process:

All personnel must be familiar with the incident reporting procedure associated with workplace injury.

Role of Team Leader & other Managers in managing call centre workplace injuries 

Knowledge of in-house process:

Team leaders have a vital role in contact centres. These managers are the first contact for many issues and often the first to identify potential workplace hazards or agents at risk. It is through these managers that agents first officially share concerns for themselves or others, and seek advice and support.

Does your contact centre have a clear procedure to record health or wellbeing concerns?

Are team leaders empowered to provide additional support? This may include knowledge of specialist physiotherapists, masseurs or access to subsidised doctor appointments.

Whatever the resources available, there must be clear record keeping with prompts to manage hand-offs (i.e. when passing agent care on) and follow-ups.  Most people hate to complain and some fear it will affect their employment record.

Making this an everyday and relaxed conversation will help agents feel more comfortable with the process. This, in turn, will encourage early intervention, decreasing the chance of a more serious injury.

Communications:

Team leaders provide an important communication link between all stakeholders. This includes group updates and one-on-one mentoring.

For contact centre agent care, this communication includes:

Planning ahead for busy times (e.g. product promotion, response to possible major events like flood claims). Help prevent injuries by warning agents and encourage them to take care of themselves. This includes practicing stretches in team meetings or a review of key ergonomic recommendations.

Being aware and looking for signs. Team leaders are ideally placed to look for and give feedback on health issues such as poor work postures, and to ensure RTW programs are implemented by agents.

Diary notes record personal communications with agents, changes in equipment, periods of intense internal change etc. These can be matched to internal reports showing periods of high work demand or other issues that may have placed additional demands on the health and well-being of agents.

Role of the business in identifying, reducing and managing call centre workplace injuries 

The culture of support & open communications:

Providing easy access to health advice and reporting procedures are important. However, a positive work culture starts with the managers and filter down.

Ask your team and your managers, “What can managers do to show they support the in-house health and wellbeing program?”

Reports:

All RTW programs include a level of reporting. Take full advantage of these reports by implementing a short debrief with all stakeholders to ensure ongoing improvement to the RTW process (for a great “Lessons Learned” template, click here).  Examples of possible benefits include:

  1. Identify and work to eliminate possible risk factors that led to the need for a RTW program.
  2. Refine RTW procedures to ensure quicker and more efficient implementation with better outcomes for all stakeholders in the future.
  3. If during debrief stakeholders feel the health condition was associated with
    • a work tool. This advice should to be shared with HR for consideration in future purchases.
    • work scheduling. This advice and possible solutions should be shared with all team leaders to improve scheduling in the future.
    • ergonomics set-up or work behaviours. This advice should be shared with in-house trainers to improve training.

Key summary in how to manage call centre workplace injuries

This article outlines key categories for effective return-to-work (RTW) programs, then goes on to suggest ways to increase the immediate and long-term benefits of programs for agents and the business.

The key elements or categories described in the cited review cover the personal care of agents (Health Care), workplace accommodation (Workplace Modifications), and communications and planning to effectively manage the RTW process (Service Coordination). However, to meet the need of the individual, programs should be refined through communications with all stakeholders.

  • The effected agent must be aware of incident reporting procedures and provide personal diary notes (i.e. what hurts, start date, steps taken to resolve the health concern).
  • Team leaders provide their diary notes recording communications, changes in the work environment and internal reports (i.e. workloads, new equipment etc.). In addition, for programs to be effective, there must be clear support from management showing a culture of open communication and easy access to health advice and reporting procedures.

The importance of reviewing outcomes

To ensure the best outcomes and capitalise on new knowledge and experience, all stakeholders should participate in a short debrief to review outcomes.

This debrief covers the process (i.e. what worked well, what needs improvement) and program costs and benefits.

Stakeholders should also consider possible causes for the health condition (i.e. was this a single event or part of a trend? What changes can be made to eliminate or minimise the risk in the future?). No one expects an expert opinion, but by promoting feedback and open communications with stakeholders, I have found team members have a great understanding of current issues and ideas for a possible solution.

In addition, these debriefs provide a form for other concerns to be discussed and possibly avoiding future health issues.

These findings are fed back into the RTW process to create increasingly efficient and effective call centre workplace injuries programs that improve future outcomes for agents and the business.

We Want To Hear From You!

We hope this summary on how to manage call centre workplace injuries will start a conversation we can all share. Tell us how you manage RTW programs, how you calculate ROI or are there special considerations for RTW programs in contact centres other should consider?

We will ensure all ideas are publicly available and if there is a lot of interest, we will create a new RTW outline to freely share.

Please share this article if you found it useful and ask us other questions.

We constantly look for practical work skills and knowledge to help prevent injury and improve comfort and wellbeing at work. We would love to hear from you.

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Liz Kirk (PhD)
About Liz Kirk (PhD) 5 Articles

Absenteeism cost the national economy over $32.5 billion in lost wages and productivity every year and call centres record the second highest rate of sickies in Australia.


I help companies reduce rates of absenteeism and increase profits by building the modern health and wellness skills staff need to flourish in the 21st Century workplace.

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