Meaningful Duties, not just ‘Suitable’ Duties

Return to Work 15 Jan 2018

Early return to work is associated with a higher success rate in employees recovering from their injury and returning to their pre-injury role.
However, returning to normal duties and normal hours too soon can aggravate the injury, delay the recovery and the return to work process. Therefore, it is important to schedule a graduated return to work program including suitable duties, to allow the employee to ease back into their work.

There are a number of benefits associated with suitable duties. They facilitate a return to work, reduce days lost because of injury, and are also cost-effective. Research has shown that offering suitable duties as part of a graduated return to work program was not just a technical process, but also an interpersonal one (James et al., 2011).

While suitable duties retain the employee in the workforce, the injured worker develops feelings of self-worth while accomplishing tasks. Furthermore, overall pressure on the work team is relieved as colleagues recognise the injured worker’s contribution while rehabilitating from their injury. It is important, however, to offer meaningful duties in which the injured worker can adequately utilise their skills. It will help them remain motivated, add to a positive work morale and better recovery. Therefore, taking into consideration the worker’s skills, abilities and interests is vital.

At times, there aren’t sufficient suitable and meaningful duties available to keep the injured worker busy. This is a good time to offer professional development and education courses to the worker to broaden their skill set which can then be utilised at a later stage of their return to work process. If you have difficulties identifying suitable duties that are meaningful to both the worker and employer, you can always consult with an occupational rehabilitation provider. They are able to conduct a work site visit and discuss suitable duties and options for both the employer and injured worker to facilitate a successful return to work.



  • James, C., Southgate, E., Kable, A., Rivett, D.A., et al. (2011). The Return to Work Coordinator Role: Qualitative Insights for Nursing. Journal for Occupational Rehabilitation, 20, 220-227.

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