December 2019 – “I think I can, I think I can!”

This month I want to take a look at a slightly different concept, self-efficacy and how it can help us predict a successful return to work.
Self-efficacy is a surprisingly specific term that is often misused to describe confidence or motivation, but its true meaning refers to an individual’s belief about their capability to execute a specific task within a given context. It doesn’t strictly relate to actual ability or performance.

There is such a thing as too much and too little self-efficacy, but those with higher self-efficacy are likely to be more persistent and more resilient to setbacks or failures.

Now, your brain is probably getting that little fizzing lightbulb of ‘ah, I know where he is going with this’ – and yes, several studies have shown that self-efficacy is a crucial determinant of the likelihood of returning to work. Return-to-work self-efficacy (the belief in your ability to return to work) measured in patients who had recently suffered a cardiac event was the strongest predictor of 6 month self-reported full-time or part-time return-to-work, independent of disease severity, age, job classification, and gender.

Yes, independent of disease severity, even!

Other studies have found similar links between patients expected and actual recovery from physical and psychiatric conditions – so why aren’t we asking more questions about self-efficacy and claimants expectations surrounding their recovery?

These ideas resonate with the data we collect: the most predictive data item we see is the date that the claimant believes they will return to work. Sure, this needs to be taken in context with the expected duration for such a claim. Likewise an answer of “I don’t know” may be equally telling!

We have been experimenting with similar factors, and are looking for ways to incorporate return-to-work self-efficacy in our psychosocial questionnaires. We already measure motivation and found that claimants who have high motivation have shorter duration claims, and also tend to have more serious conditions. Perhaps people with high motivation need something pretty severe to stop them working?

So how can we channel this self-efficacy/motivation factor into our data? Imagine being able to select those individuals specifically with a high return-to-work self-efficacy and high motivation to invest in an intensive return-to-work program; if we can fine tune these enough, can we get to a stage where age and diagnoses will be less important for estimating claim durations…

Next month, we are going to look at what employers can do to increase return-to-work self-efficacy – and it might not be as difficult as we think. Please do reach out to me to continue the discussion!

Ian Bridgman
Executive Director

Stajkovic and Luthans, “Social Cognitive Theory and Self-Efficacy.”
Franche and Krause, “Readiness for Return to Work Following Injury or Illness.”
Watty Piper, “Little Train That Could”

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