Energize Your Workplace Injury Prevention Programs


Tap into employee experience

By Kristen Cederlind, OTR/L, and Barb Herke-Smith, PT*
October 2018

“Employee experience” is emerging as an important term in the Human Resources (HR) handbook, with the primary focus on creating environments that make people genuinely want to come to work.

According to Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends for 2017, employees are “looking at everything that happens at work as an integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being.” Creating that desirable environment requires addressing physical workspace, organizational culture (including focusing on work/life balance), and the use of updated technology and tools. Organizations need to design their workplace practices to fit their people, not the other way around. The ultimate goal is to keep the workforce safe, healthy, and productive. Sounds a lot like the concepts of ergonomic or modified work recommendations that we make when working with employees, right?

In other words, these components of employee experience probably already enter into your thinking. Make them a consistent part of your mindset, and it could change how you interact with employees and employers. How can helping employers address workplace injuries and risks improve the employee experience? By providing injury prevention services on site, physical therapists can contribute to positive and productive employee experiences by (1) being easily accessible, (2) building trusting relationships with employees, and (3) gaining a meaningful understanding of employees’ work by virtue of being present in the space, observing and analyzing job tasks. The benefits of helping employees gain musculoskeletal wellness leads to their ability to better balance the demands of work and life.

In 2017, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) released its official “Position on Direct-to-Employer Population Health Services by Physical Therapists.” In it, the APTA proposed that PTs work directly with employers or employer groups as part of a larger fundamental shift in healthcare which focuses on providing prevention through health risk reduction. Focusing on the worksite is effective because (1) people need to be treated where they are, (2) employers and employees shoulder a great financial burden for health care costs, and (3) PT’s are already part of the occupational wellness team. More employers are recognizing the value of bringing health care providers directly to the worksite for purposes of work injury prevention and management. Physical therapists, especially when embedded into the workplace, can provide immediate triage for employees experiencing musculoskeletal discomfort. OSHA compliant early intervention, when appropriate, can prevent minor musculoskeletal aches and pains from becoming work comp injury claims. Getting questions answered promptly and understanding the natural course of healing helps alleviate fear. In a recent survey, physical therapists who work in onsite programs reported: “We hear all the time how much the workers value our help deciphering what is serious from what is simply muscle overuse discomfort. Our early intervention allows strains and pains to be managed free of medication.”

Working with employees at the workplace, physical therapists are able to integrate right into the culture. They learn to speak the language of the workplace. They learn how management and employees collaborate and relate to each other. They see and hear issues impacting employees’ physical comfort on the job. They are able to utilize both their relationships with key site contacts and knowledge of the employees’ perspective to make recommendations that improve the physical workspace and reduce risk of musculoskeletal discomfort. When employees experience the impact of these changes, it continues to foster an environment of mutual trust, which can positively energize the culture and improve active, voluntary participation in workplace injury prevention processes.

Physical therapists, as musculoskeletal experts, perform activity and job analysis, which can lead to recommendations for workspace and/or process improvement. When they see an employee to address musculoskeletal discomfort, they can also easily visit the workstation and identify tasks that may be contributing to that discomfort. In some cases, they can coach the employee in alternate methods of performing the offending task. In other cases, they can gather appropriate data and work with the employee/department to recommend meaningful change. Employees feel valued when their concerns are addressed and they are involved in identifying solutions. Physical therapists speak to the value of job coaching by stating “It is so superior to interact with employees in the space where they work and in the exact tasks they have problems with, instead of a mimicked scenario in the clinic.”

Physical therapists are poised to help employers address the recognized importance of employee experience by implementing onsite programs that emphasize the benefits and value of collaborating with employees to maximize workplace injury prevention and management efforts. Physical therapists working on site are in a unique position to develop relationships with and understanding of the employees’ work and work culture, resulting in both a positive employee experience and musculoskeletal wellness. Engaging the employees’ perspective in problem solving in and design of workflows will likely lead to more effective solutions and processes—and fewer injuries.

Action Item

When marketing and providing your onsite work injury prevention and management services, don’t underestimate the value of how those services can positively impact the employee experience by promoting physical and emotional wellness and making employees feel more valued. It will be a win-win for employees, employers, and physical therapists.


Bersin J, Flynn J, Mazor A, Melian V. The Employee Experience—Culture, Engagement, and Beyond (2/28/2017). 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/improving-the-employee-experience-culture-engagement.html Accessed August 2018.

Schulte P, Grosch J, Scholl ,Tamers S. Framework for considering productive aging and work. J Occup Environ Med 2018;60(5):440-448. https://journals.lww.com/joem/Fulltext/2018/05000/Framework_for_Considering_Productive_Aging_and.5.aspx Accessed August 2018.

CDC/NIOSH Website: Productive Aging and Work. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/productiveaging/default.html Accessed August 2018.

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Position on Direct-to-Employer Population Health Services by Physical Therapists An American Physical Therapy Association Perspective, (2017), APTA

Hidden Opportunity: The Employee Experience and Workplace Injury Prevention. https://www.workwell.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/WorkWell-Employee-Experience-Workplace-Injury-Prevention-white-paper.pdf Accessed August 2018.

Kristen Cederlind

Kristen Cederlind, OTR/L, is director of the WorkWell Quality Provider Network for WorkWell Prevention & Care. She can be reached at Kristen.cederlind@workwellpc.com.

Barb Herke-Smith

Barb Herke-Smith, PT, is a PPS member and senior director of provider sales for WorkWell Prevention & Care. She can be reached at barb.herkesmith@workwellpc.com.

*The authors have a vested interest in this subject.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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