Return to work and the New Zealand small business employer
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The focus of this inquiry is “New Zealand small business employers’ perspectives of the important factors in return-to-work (RTW) of an employee following a musculoskeletal injury or an illness”. Whilst worldwide there is an increasing amount of attention focused on the RTW process in large organisations, there continues to be little understanding of this phenomenon in small businesses. I chose to use a social constructivist theoretical framework drawing on grounded theory methodology to construct some understanding of the employers’ perspectives of the RTW process. Eight small business employers from Auckland and Christchurch participated in this research. Data were gathered using semi-structured interviews. Constant comparative analysis, theoretical sampling and thematic analysis were used to construct two themes from the data. The findings showed that small business employers prefer informal organisational approaches, rely on close working relationships with their staff, are generally wary of bureaucracy and often must run their businesses with limited staff and financial resources. Having an employee off work for a prolonged period of time creates a sizable gap in the staff resources that keep the business running. The employer has responsibility to fill this gap while maintaining a productive business. In the absence of formal injury management practices an ad hoc approach was taken to the RTW process. A number of the employers felt undervalued by key stakeholders, such as doctors, treatment providers, Accident Compensation Corporation and in some cases RTW co-ordinators. Health and safety was a risk all employers appeared to take seriously whereas injury management information and support seemed less of a focus. This research suggests there may be little focus on injury management in small businesses by employers and, that employers perceive greater government emphasis on injury prevention. The extent and associated costs of work disability in small businesses is as yet unknown, but it is likely to be significant. How to support and encourage the uptake of injury management in small businesses in the long term warrants further investigation. Understanding that employers may well lack injury management expertise, experience and resources requires stakeholders to make specific effort with the employer, at the workplace, to facilitate the RTW process.