Workplace mental injury is a major issue in Victoria. As of June 2019 only 51% of mentally-injured workers had returned to work within 6-months, compared to 77% of those with physical injuries. Return-to-work outcomes for the long-term disengaged are dramatically worse. The claims process inspires feelings of isolation and powerlessness, which further delays recovery. This has flow-on effects for workers’ health, for employers’ businesses and WorkSafe’s ability to run a sustainable scheme. Paper Giant was engaged to co-create a new service concept aimed at long-term disengaged workers, in partnership with stakeholders, to empower them to recover and regain work confidence.
Stepping Stones is a service connecting workers impacted by acute mental injury with nonprofits seeking volunteers. It sits within WorkSafe and is a low-cost, flexible offering designed to put workers’ needs and goals front-and-centre. It provides workers at risk of disengaging from work long-term with an opportunity to rebuild their confidence, and increase the likelihood of recovery and return to work. Of all concepts co-created, Stepping Stones was chosen because it: - Provides a ‘low-stakes’ space to explore interests and capacity for structured routine - Minimises retraumatisation-risk from premature return to pre-injury workplace - Facilitates wide-reaching social benefit
Since its launch in July 2021, eighty-seven people have been placed in the program, lending their skills to food banks, animal welfare organisations, and other charities across Victoria. Post-project evaluation shows that the service is delivering hope for workers with complex needs: - Almost a quarter (23%) of placements had returned-to-work after just 13 weeks in the program, rising to 39% after 26 weeks - Many workers have increased their hours, demonstrating an increased capacity for routine and work tasks - 254 more workers have identified Stepping Stones as a new, manageable goal for their return-to-work journey
Stepping Stones recognises that every worker’s injury must be catered to sensitively: accommodating for their diverse contexts and experiences. It also recognises the importance of trust and agency — decisions about recovery must be made with, not for, its users. Together with their occupational rehabilitation providers, workers investigate their desired organisations and choose their placements. They are in full control of what capacity they can contribute, with some workers initially offering as little as 15-20 minutes per day, and from their own home. This feature empowers workers with control that our research revealed is so often absent during other parts of their claim experience. Crucially, participation in Stepping Stones does not impact workers’ access to claims compensation. This is a unique offering, in that workers who would otherwise choose to re-enter employment may lose or have reduced entitlement to medical and fiscal support provided through the WorkCover scheme. Through Stepping Stones, workers are rewarded — rather than penalised — for actions taken to rebuild their own wellbeing and confidence. The project team consisted of the following members. Paper Giant: Reuben Stanton, Lottie Greally, Matthew Wilcox, Russell Pongho, Wendy Fox. Worksafe: Karen Chapman, Fiona Slocombe, Lucas Kowalski, Steven Petridis, Sean Burns, Ryan Hargreaves.