Getting back to work: Enableworks

Returning to full work duties and productivity after an accident on the job or illness can be a difficult and slow process.

Many factors might be involved – ongoing physical pain or restricted movement; psychosocial factors such as rapid technological changes or demanding deadlines causing mental distress, depression and lowered self-esteem – all these aspects can contribute to reduced work satisfaction and motivation.

A programme called Abilita, originally developed in Australia by Dr Pam Garton, an occupational therapist, offers a pathway to building resilience to these barriers and to gaining fulfilment in one’s working life. The company EnableWorks, based in Christchurch, holds the only licence in New Zealand to operate this programme. It works with organisations throughout the country which have identified concerns relating to employees’ mental and physical wellbeing with respect to their rehabilitation into the work environment.

To begin with, a screening survey is completed by the employee assessing them against the job’s demands and their capacity to carry out the work requirements. “Individuals are the best qualified witnesses of their own lives and the questions within the survey identify beliefs, feelings, perceptions and behaviours that are known to be influential when reduced work capacity is indicated”, explains Randa Abbasi, occupational therapist and owner of EnableWorks.

“A report is generated from the answers to the survey. This provides a snapshot of the person’s insights into their health, coping capacity, and attitudes to work. We can then determine how much they are at risk and in need of the intervention of coaching to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve full work participation.”

The coaching comes in the form of a self-management programme that is tailored over three to four sessions to educate the individual as to how to manage their various symptoms and to really understand how their body reacts when they are in pain, depressed, or unhappy. The session covers topics such as the science of pain (explaining pain and stress), the biopsycho-social model (the multiple factors that contribute to pain and suffering) and relaxation and breathing (practising slow breathing – a powerful calming strategy to manage pain and stress at home, at work and in the community).

EnableWorks has created an attractive and interactive workbook to cover the various sessions, elevating the programme from what might be “dry” theory into something fun and interactive, and therefore, more memorable. There are follow-up exercises for homework and a toolkit of very helpful strategies is listed for future reference.

“This structured programme has delivered strong health and work outcomes for both individual employees and for their employers. It builds workers trust and engagement and it helps employers to know how to better support each worker,” says Randa.

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