Supervisor competencies for supporting return to work: A mixed-methods study

Venerina Johnston*, Kirsten Way, Maryann H. Long, Mary Wyatt, Libby Gibson, William S. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: Line supervisors often play an important role in the return to work (RTW) process; whether they possess the competencies needed to carry out this work effectively is unknown. The aim of this research was to determine the competencies supervisors need in order to facilitate a worker's RTW following absence due to a mental health condition or a musculoskeletal disorder.

METHODS: Supervisors from five Australian industries with high rates of compensable claims participated in focus groups to elicit the knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics required to support returning workers. From a multi-stage analysis of responses, RTW competencies were developed, allocated to clusters of related items, and incorporated into an online survey administered to rehabilitation professionals.

RESULTS: 29 supervisors participated in 1 of 5 focus groups. Analysis of focus group data identified 84 generic competencies, eight specific to mental health conditions, and two to musculoskeletal disorders, arranged in 11 clusters. Survey respondents (n = 344) represented a variety of rehabilitation professionals and jurisdictions. Nearly all agreed that supervisors should receive training to support RTW. Over 50 % of respondents rated 90 of 94 competencies as very important or essential. The highest ratings were for competencies relating to personal attributes, knowledge of RTW processes, and empathetic support of the worker.

CONCLUSIONS: Supervisors and rehabilitation professionals perceive effective support of RTW requires supervisors to have a range of knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics. Our competency model should undergo workplace testing to evaluate its validity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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