How to Assist Persons with Disabilities to Overcome Return to the Workplace Concerns

How to Assist Persons with Disabilities to Overcome Return to the Workplace Concerns

Throughout the pandemic, employees have been working from home. As they have attempted to adapt to this new work situation, there have been ongoing concerns that may be more prevalent for individuals with disabilities.

A July 2021 study completed by the Institute of Work and Health (IWH) examined how worried individuals with disabilities were during the COVID-19 pandemic about their finances, their health, and the level of workplace support they perceived. Dr. Monique Gignac noted that there were two common patterns noted in the concerns: 1) Health, finances and level of workplace support and 2) Job conditions (Institute for Work and Health, 2021).

Addressing Concerns about Health, Finance, and Level of Workplace Support

As you engage in the return to the workplace discussions, it is important to acknowledge these heightened concerns. In your discussions with employees, you may consider talking about what supports are available for employees. This is a good time to discuss how you plan to support employees in the return to the workplace plan. What will be the expectations for those employees that have been working effectively in home offices? In our blog last week, we reported on how some individuals with disabilities have in fact been able to work more effectively without the commute or using less conventional workplace tools.

You might consider asking the following questions of your employees:

  • What are the structures or tools that have worked well for you while working from home?
  • Do you have any concerns about resuming work in the office?
  • How can we support your success at work?

It is also important to be clear on the programs you have worked hard to put into the workplace for employees. Talk about your health and safety measures, any provisions for flexible work, hybrid work options and how they will be implemented, and psychological support programs that you have developed and implemented. As you have these discussions, you will be able to find the best solutions for both the workplace and the worker.

What if my employee has anxiety about returning to the workplace?

We have seen a rise in the mental health concerns of all employees. It has been particularly difficult for those who had already been working with mental health conditions. Organizations who support mental health have found improved overall productivity of their employees. Worldwide depression and anxiety are estimated to cost $1 Trillion USD per year in lost productivity alone (World Health Organization). Investing in mental health in the workplace can provide a ROI of four times your investment (Speak Your Mind, 2020).

Recent studies on personal health coaching have shown that coaching reduces the impact of stress by 12 times, overall mental health by 8 times, depression by 7 times, and much more. Employee Assistance Programs have been the go-to for many employers. While EAP is a wonderful resource, there is recognition that investment in work-related personal coaching is important in the return to the workplace plan. In our experience within the workplace, coaching support from an Occupational Therapist reduces lost time and lost productivity of employees by providing resources early and in the workplace.

TIPS for the Workplace

Some employees may need additional coaching and support when worry and anxiety overtakes them when foreseeing return to the workplace. Gowan can assist you in having the right strategies to support your employees through our TIPS for Return to the Workplace Program.

Gowan’s TIPS Workplace Program is a four-session, work-focused training program with an emphasis on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It includes individualized sessions with an Occupational Therapist and a fillable workbook for the employee to use during their session time. The workbook contains education, resources, and room for flexible and specialized planning designed for the employee’s needs.

We began developing TIPS during lockdown in direct response to the growing need for return to work tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we quickly realized that there was potential to reach so many more employees. This program is suitable for any employee whose faces barriers to returning to or staying in the workplace.

For more details, please see the attached fact sheet and watch our informational video:

Our TIPS for return to the workplace program can help your employees to prepare for the adjustments in the work and workplace needs and ensure that they have the tools to sustain return to work.

Addressing Job Conditions

In addition to the pattern of mental health concerns reported in the IWH study, individuals with disabilities also reported COVID-19 concerns linked to work factors such as “low job control, high job stress, unmet accommodation needs, little job security and lack of work options” (IWH, 2021).

Jobs have changed as we move into the new way of working. A study completed by the World Economic Forum in the Future of Jobs Report 2020 identified newly emerging skills that will be required in 2025 in our workplace. These skills focus on cognitive skills such as analytical thinking, complex problem solving, critical thinking and analysis, and emotional intelligence such as resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility (World Economic Forum, 2020).

It is critical that employers prepare their workforce to be able to build and utilize these skills in the workplace. An Occupational Therapist can assess the employee’s capabilities and assess the job demands. Through that process, the Occupational Therapist can work with the employee and employer to provide tools and strategies to use these skills in the workforce.

Strategies for the Workplace

  • Be proactive by having a cognitive demands analysis completed on specific jobs. This will help your workforce to understand the job requirements, workload concerns, and stress levels in the job.
  • Determine appropriate accommodations for employees with disabilities to expand the options for individuals that may currently be struggling with work performance concerns.
  • Consider that technology has improved over time and allowed individuals that may have the capabilities to now perform jobs that were more physical in nature by using AI and automation for repetitive and routine roles.
  • A functional cognitive assessment by an Occupational Therapist can support appropriate adjustments to the work and work tools and help with providing the right job match for your employee.
  • Success Coaching and Job Coaching can support employees in working through individual challenges to develop the skills for managing stress, dealing with people, and improving the ability to use the tools in the workplace.
  • Develop a solid return to the workplace plan with options for hybrid work. Ask us about our Hybrid Work toolkit to help with planning and discussions as your organization decides about the best way to move forward.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Cited Articles

“COVID worries highest among workers with both physical, mental health disabilities,” Institute for Work & Health, July 30, 2021,

“Mental Health and Substance Abuse,” World Health Organization,

“The Return on the Individual: Time to Invest in Mental Health,” Speak Your Mind, 2020, “Chapter 2. Forecasts for Labour Market Evolution in 2020-2025 – The Future of Jobs Report 2020,” World Economic Forum, October 20, 2020,

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