Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 3–17 | Cite as

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


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.


Return to work Competency Supervisors Mental health Musculoskeletal disorder Training 



The researchers would like to acknowledge the support of WorkSafe Victoria and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), through the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research ISCRR). We are grateful for the support of the organizations whose staff willingly gave their time and experiences to participate in this research. We would also like to thank Dr. Shelley Allen who served as the independent qualitative researcher and subject matter expert.

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Venerina Johnston
    • 1
  • Kirsten Way
    • 2
  • Maryann H. Long
    • 3
  • Mary Wyatt
    • 4
  • Libby Gibson
    • 3
  • William S. Shaw
    • 5
  1. 1.Division of Physiotherapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of PsychologyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Epidemiology and Preventive MedicineMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Liberty Mutual Research Institute for SafetyHopkintonUSA

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