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Supporting the ability to work

Health problems force many to leave the workforce far too early, and often those with a reduced capacity to work don’t manage to stay employed. But these scenarios don’t have to be a given. Both managers and workers have a role to play in tailoring the culture and systems of their workplace, as well as the mindset of other managers, to make sure workers get the right support when they need it, and can continue to work.

Tap into the potential of your people

Working adults spend up to a third of their life at work. But reaching their potential means doing ‘good work’ that suits their knowledge, skills and circumstances and doing it in a safe and supportive environment. These factors play a huge part in helping someone make the most of their potential in the workplace, recover from illness and prevent unnecessary disability.

Managers can support workers who have a health problem to stay on or return after illness, as well as encourage workers with a disability to join and stay in the workforce. Meanwhile, workers need to realise the importance of talking to their managers about support that could be offered.

The Australian Public Service is committed to fostering workplaces where the range of skills, abilities and cultural perspectives of individuals is respected and diversity is valued.

Empowering workers to participate

Managers play an integral role in supporting workers with an injury, ill health, chronic disease or disability, to take part in the workplace. Small changes can make a big difference.

A practical and positive thing that can be done is to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. Reasonable adjustments are any form of help or change that is necessary, possible and achievable, to reduce or remove barriers to work.

Reasonable adjustments don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package; they need to be personalised and tailored to meet individual needs and circumstances. Things to consider include:

  • Physical adjustments—what needs to change in the workplace?
  • Work arrangements—are flexible hours or work locations needed?
  • Adjustments to a job—do duties need to be modified?
  • Technical help—is new or modified equipment needed?
  • Attitudes of colleagues—have you considered how you will influence the attitudes of colleagues to make sure they understand and support the adjustments?
  • Communication—have you started the conversation?

Enabling workers to reach their potential

Managers can help workers reach their potential in the workplace by focusing on a number of key elements. Professor Juhani Ilmarinen—a European expert on ageing and quality of life—identified four elements to support the ability to work:

  • Health—workplaces can reduce productivity losses and premature retirement for health reasons by mitigating risks that impact workforce participation.
  • Competence—workplaces that support lifelong learning increase integration, participation and wellbeing.
  • Attitudes—workplaces must respect the diverse skills, abilities and cultural perspectives of all to promote work ability.
  • Work—healthy and safe workplaces are ones that prevent harm and promote health and wellbeing through the participation of workers.



Interactive Supporting the ability to work: Case studies from the Comcare Community

Case studies from the Comcare community supporting the ability to work.

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Page last updated: 16 Jun 2017