What do Occupational Therapists do in employee wellness roles?

During my occupational therapy education, I was given the opportunity to work in an industrial organisation to promote employee wellness. In this role, ‘clients’ were both the employees and the organisation. I found this placement really innovative and fun because it was a creative way that Occupational Therapists could contribute to health and wellbeing promotion and injury prevention.

What can Occupational Therapists do when they work for or with corporations and organisations to promote employee health and wellbeing?

  • Develop musculoskeletal injury prevention programs in industrial settings
    • We can collaborate with management staff, production floor workers in each area, and office staff in the development of an ongoing musculoskeletal injury prevention programme.
    • One of the initiatives our preceptor started was a daily warm-up programme that production-floor workers did to warm-up their muscles for the day of work.
  • Support employees with mental health and wellbeing through educational workshops and occupation-based wellbeing initiatives
    • This was probably one of my favourite parts of the placement. We could share knowledge and education with employees on general strategies to promote wellbeing, including sleep hygiene, mindfulness, goal setting, pacing, pausing, making ‘me-time’, and stress management. We would have engaging discussions about mental health and wellbeing.
    • In addition to workshops, we also started weekly lunchtime walks where employees from across the production floor and office-based departments could come together, and build a sense of community and belonging in the workplace.
  • Conduct Job Demands Analysis’ that can be used to support employees when they return to work after an injury  
    • We can help identify different light duties that workers can do to reconnect with the workplace and continue their recovery as they return to work
  • Conduct office and industrial ergonomic assessments and advocate for employees to access equipment that will support their participation in work
    • This can include advocating for ergonomic chairs, footrests, and monitor stands as well as tools that can be used to more safely access tight spaces
  • Address social determinants of health that may be present in the workplace, such as classism, racism, ableism, and mental health stigma.
    • As in society, racism, ableism, classism, colonialism, and gender- and sexuality-based discrimination can occur and affect worker experiences and wellbeing. 
    • In some settings, there can be mental illness or substance use stigma and people feel uncomfortable disclosing their use of substances or mental health challenges and fear the impact it could have on their livelihoods. This can then affect their access to individualised wellbeing support services. 
    • As another example, in a classist view, tradespeople and their creative, hands-on smarts are typically undervalued and more social value is placed on white collar jobs with university degrees; this can manifest as decreased value placed on the opinions of tradespeople when their opinions and ideas for improving safety and wellbeing in their roles matter and can be genius. 
    • When we can work with a diverse group of workers from each area of an organisation, we can co-design possibilities for wellbeing and belonging within the workplace culture, policies and physical environment of an organisation. 
  • Have 1:1 sessions with employees for support with mental health and wellbeing
    • This is something that our preceptor did sometimes. Some of the workers that I worked with experienced mental health difficulties, difficulties coping with pain, and using substances to numb their pain experience. These are health concerns that we can work with people on at a 1:1 level using occupation-based interventions, coaching, and psychotherapy tools, as well as at the environmental level of workplace policies, supports, and workplace culture initiatives.

As Occupational Therapists, we can work with employees in every area of an organisation to shift worker’s experiences with mental and physical health and wellbeing. As we do this, it works best when we work with representatives from each area of the organisation so that we’re all on the same page and co-designing solutions that truly benefit everyone. When people experience wellbeing and belonging at work, work performance and productivity improves  (Cotton & Hart, 2003), and so working with Occupational Therapists to improve your workplace wellbeing is a win-win for everyone.

How could this role be accessible?

Unless there are accessibility barriers at a specific workplace, this role could be accessible for every occupational therapist.

This blog is part of our ‘What do Occupational Therapists do…’ series to celebrate OT month.

Author: Anna Braunizer

Twitter: @ABraunizer

Cotton, P., & Hart, P. M. (2003). Occupational wellbeing and performance: A review of organisational health research. Australian Psychologist, 38, 118-127.

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