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Support ability to work Fact sheet 90 by VWycS7P



“We are talking about enabling the choices of those
people who need or wish to work to do so without
discrimination barriers”
                                                                                        Human Rights Commission1

Comcare partners with workers, their employers and unions to keep workers healthy and safe, and reduce
the incidence and cost of workplace injury and disease. We implement the Australian Government’s
policies in Federal workplaces to drive social inclusion and productivity.
The Australian Public Service (APS) has a commitment to foster workplaces where the diverse skills,
abilities and cultural perspectives of individuals are respected; disability is just another point of difference;
and diversity is valued.
The workplace is centre stage for health and productivity. Working adults spend up to 1/3 of their life at

Work that suits a worker’s knowledge, skills and circumstances—undertaken in a safe, supportive
environment—plays a huge part in helping them be the best they can be. The workplace is also an
important part of recovery from illness.

Far too many workers leave the labour market unnecessarily due to ill health and disability, and too few
with a reduced work capacity manage to stay employed. This is why action to sustain a worker’s ability to
work and support for those workers with a health problem to stay at work, or return to work after illness,
as well as strategies to assist those with a disability enter the workplace, are critical to healthy
productivity. The culture and systems of a workplace and mindset of managers are critical to preventing
needless disability.

Professor Julian Ilmarinen—an expert on ageing and the quality of working life in Europe2—identified the
following as important elements to support the ability to work.

    Human Rights Commission 2010 Age Discrimination—Exposing the hidden barrier for mature age workers.
     Ilmarinen, J. Towards a longer worklife! Ageing and the quality of worklife in the European Union, Finnish Institute of
     Occupational Health 2005, pp. 132-134.
FS 90 October 2011                                                                                                             1
The relationship between work and health is an important one. People in work are generally healthier than
those who are not. However, for many workers, their ability to work is affected by common conditions
such as back injuries, arthritis and mental health conditions.
Our health choices and circumstances also have lifelong consequences which impact upon workforce
participation. Workplaces can reduce productivity losses and premature retirement for health reasons by
assessing risks when people are in their forties and providing appropriate support before problems
become acute. Health promotion strategies should target specific, identified needs and align with business
strategy to create a culture focused on wellness. This could include lifestyles, family and social choices
and personal health resources.

Lifelong learning promotes integration, participation and wellbeing. We need to recognise the diverse skills
of the entire workforce including supporting skill development for older workers. As workplaces embrace
new technologies, new opportunities exist to reduce constraints on work ability. Physical capability and
proximity becomes less important for effective work engagement. Productive, healthy and safe workplaces
that implement workplace supports make adjustments to promote ability to work, and implement
organisational strategies to create an inclusive and flexible workplace. An innovative workplace should
include initiatives such as mentoring, job transitions, on-the-job training, adult learning and flexible and
adaptive career pathways.

Attitudes to work, disability and ageing can influence recruitment, promotion and retention of workers. To
promote work ability, the workplace must respect the diverse skills, abilities and cultural perspectives of
all. People at work need to be involved in the decisions that affect them, have a sense of purpose, and
feel respected for their unique contribution.

The culture and the mindset of managers is vitally important as they ensure workers have the right
support at the right time to maintain their ability to work. Support from human resource management—in
areas such as people management, accessing flexible work arrangements, accessibility and usability—
provides a greater range of options to promote individual potential. Building a culture of reciprocal trust,
showing appreciation, clear communication and will improve engagement and productivity.

Federal law puts high priority on preventing harm at work and reducing the number and severity of safety
incidents. Productive good work has a positive impact on health and wellbeing of employees, provides
financial security, facilitates social inclusion, assists personal development, develops friendships, builds
self esteem and ensures protection from physical and psychosocial harm.
Healthy and safe workplaces are ones which prevent harm and promote health and wellbeing through the
participation of workers. Productive work plays an enormous part in helping someone recover from illness
and prevent unnecessary disability. Good work is the most effective means to improve the wellbeing of
individuals, their families and communities. Work arrangements, flexibility, leadership and feedback are
all important.

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FS 90 October 2011                                                                                         2

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