When someone who has been off work for four weeks or more is referred to Fit for Work, they will initially speak to a case manager for a 45-minute assessment. Contact with the case manager may often continue beyond this first conversation, but Fit for Work case managers use these 45 minutes to gain a real understanding of all the obstacles preventing someone from returning to work.
In order to fully explore these obstacles, Fit for Work case managers employ what is known as a ‘biopsychosocial’ approach. While this concept may initially sound complicated, it’s actually very simple. Here’s what each part means:
Bio: The ‘bio’ part of the biopsychosocial approach is the most obvious one – health. If someone is off sick from work, the physical or mental health problem (or problems) preventing them returning will be discussed in detail with the Fit for Work case manager. The case manager will explore all the ways this health problem is stopping someone working – for example, if they are suffering with back pain, can they alter how their work station is setup and avoid long periods of being seated? Have they tried working shorter shifts or avoiding twisting and bending?
Psycho: As well as physical health problems, psychological issues may often come into play when someone is off for work for an extended period of time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will be diagnosed with a condition like depression or anxiety, although we do also support cases like that at Fit for Work. It could just mean that being stuck indoors with an illness has made someone feel isolated or lonely, or that not being able to get back to work is causing someone increased stress. The psychological aspect also encompasses attitudes to work and relationships at work. It can be really important to have support to address issues, attitudes or beliefs to enable an employee to return to work.
Social: People may not think that social factors can play a big role in sickness absence, but often these type of issues can increase the problem. Someone referred to Fit for Work may also be struggling with a complicated family situation as well as being unwell, or may have significant financial difficulties which are only being made worse by being out of work. These types of problem would all be covered under the biopsychosocial model.
The key reason Fit for Work uses the biopsychosocial approach is because it is ‘holistic’ in that it covers every single obstacle which may be stopping someone returning to work. This means that all issues, no matter how small, can be discussed and hopefully addressed by the subsequent Return to Work Plan, making it easy and straightforward for someone to return to work in a way that suits them.
If you have been off work sick for four weeks or more, you can ask your GP or employer to refer you to Fit for Work. Visit the Fit for Work website for more details.