What are the psychosocial factors impacting recovery_

Supporting your employees during their recovery from injury or illness is about more than getting them back to work. It’s about getting them back to health and back to life.

While each individual’s recovery will be unique, there are some common themes impacting recovery, especially from a psychosocial [social and psychological] perspective.

James Meldrum from APM WorkCare discusses these themes.


Sleep has become somewhat of a hot topic in recent years. While surviving on minimal sleep is regarded by some as a badge of honour, science suggests otherwise.

Most experts agree that we don’t get enough sleep - and that we need more sleep in order to maintain health and wellbeing.

Professor Matt Walker PhD (aka the Sleep Diplomat) believes the ‘global sleep epidemic’ is the greatest public health challenge we face today. He says we can harness the power of sleep to tackle many mental and physical health issues and boost the efficiency, success and productivity of our businesses. (You can follow Dr Walker on Twitter @SleepDiplomat)

Writing for The Guardian Dr Walker recently published an article about the role sleep plays in boosting productivity in the workplace.

But how can sleep impact recovery?

After an injury or illness, both the amount and quality of sleep a person gets can play a big part in recovery. In fact, sleep could be the secret to recovery.

During the deep sleep stage, the growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair is released in the body. If we don’t spend enough time in this deep sleep stage, our body misses out on this important ingredient for recovery.

When we deprive our body of sleep, we experience increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which can also impact blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels - all of which are crucial to the healing process.

The link between sleep and health is well documented. Biologically, sleep supports a number of essential functions including brain development, metabolism, cardiac function, memory, mood and of course physical recovery and repair.

As Australian psychologist and sleep researcher Dr Sarah Blunden puts it, ‘sleep is the foundation of all physical and mental health’.

Financial security and wellness

Money worries are a common source of stress for many people.

If someone has time away from work due to an injury or illness, even with insurance [protection] in place and minimal out of pocket costs, this situation is bound to cause additional stress.

Because the stress hormone cortisol is crucial to the healing process, worrying about money can have a huge impact on recovery.

The good news is that employers can play a key role in supporting workers with practical support and guidance during this difficult time.

This might consist of information, financial support services or retraining if the person can’t return to their original job.

While early identification of people at risk of financial stress after an injury is important, financial stress is a broader issue for employers - because of the impact it can have on productivity and employee engagement.

While this impact is hard to quantify, a US study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that of those workers who are concerned about their finances, 39% spent at least three hours a week thinking about or dealing with financial problems.

Financial stress can impact on commitment, satisfaction with job and pay, poor health and workplace conflict.

The good news is there is a lot that employers can do in the area of financial wellness.

Employers play a key role in the financial wellness of their employees. Providing financial wellness programs (such as money management information and support) not only helps your people, it directly benefits the company.

The workplace is the ideal platform for financial wellness building - because of the ability to reach a large number of people with a single program.

In an article published earlier this year, Novus Health describe the three ways employers can help their employees prioritise financial wellness:

  • Financially-focused employee benefits which provide a ‘safety net’ - for example income protection, life insurance, health insurance
  • Education - bringing in financial experts to educate employees.
  • Workplace saving schemes - encouraging your people to invest in their own financial security.

While financial support and guidance after an injury or illness could reduce stress and have a positive impact on recovery, an overall focus on financial wellness will also improve productivity and job satisfaction, reduce stress and create a happier, healthier workforce, which means it may also contribute to injury prevention.

Social factors

Various studies have shown that social connectedness is crucial to physical and mental health.

A recent study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry showed strong links between social connection and mental health.

Researchers believe that social connectedness is ‘at least as good for your health as quitting smoking or exercise’ and can aid recovery from physical and mental illness. The independent news site The Conversation published an article about this recently.

Social support during recovery could come from family or other structures within a person’s community.

Just as it takes a ‘village’ to raise a child, it takes a ‘tribe’ to support people through significant life events such as an an injury or illness.

A person’s tribe - their family, friends and community - play an important (and often unacknowledged) role in recovery.

The physical, emotional, practical and often financial support of family, friends and community is invaluable during the recovery process, and complements the clinical support provided by allied health professionals.

Positivity and reinforcement from a person’s tribe can play a crucial role in enhancing a person’s self esteem, confidence and even mental health during the recovery process.

This highlights the importance of identifying people who have a limited social support network and may require more formal practical and psychological support after an injury.

Physical activity

We all know exercise is the key to good health. It also aids recovery from injury or illness.

In fact, it could be the best and most important medicine of all, according to David C. Neiman PhD, author of The Exercise-Health Connection: How to Reduce your Risk of Disease and Other Illnesses by Making Exercise Your Medicine.

There are probably hundreds of ways, but here are seven...

  1. It’s good for the heart
  2. It rebuilds bone and muscle
  3. It maximises mental acuity
  4. It reduces inflammation
  5. It helps with hormones
  6. It boosts immunity
  7. It supports mental health.

Physical activity also has a role in overall health and wellbeing and injury prevention. A fit, healthy worker is a safe worker.

Around the world, businesses are seeing the value of an integrated approach to health, safety and wellbeing.

From small programs to encourage physical activity to policies and practices which simultaneously prevent injuries and illnesses and enhance overall health and wellbeing at work and at home, the Harvard School of Public Health says an integrated approach is key.

From better productivity and employee engagement to improved mental health and employee retention, the benefits of a physically healthy workforce are many and far reaching.

What other factors have you witnessed impacting the recovery of your clients?

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