meaningful light duty assignment

Creating meaningful light duty jobs – can you do it?

I get asked over and over again – “how can I reduce my work comp costs?”  It’s a big question with enough answers to fill a book.  In fact, I wrote a book on the subject (available on amazon).  Most work comp managers are looking for easy and fast fixes with short term results.  But if you want to build a program with the long view in mind, then you need to start treating with a little respect.  Put on your creative hat and look at what really motivates people.

Add a dash of meaning

Most light duty jobs are not typically known for being meaningful.   Most are looking to make the work so boring and tiresome the injured employee will heal immediately. As you can imagine, this paradigm conflicts itself and usually ends with the injured person resenting the organization, the system and you.  No one wants to come to a meaningless job, even if they aren’t injured.  We all want to have a feeling of purpose, of contribution, of being part of a team.  These are simple human feelings that we overlook on a routine basis because we have become jaded, suspicious and been duped into believing an injured employee’s only motivation is to rip off the system.  Sure it happens on occasion, but those cases are so rare and easy to spot you can put a stop to them quickly.

If you really want to lower your work comp costs and help employees heal quickly, then give it meaning.  What we every job needs, including light duty assignments, is meaning.  The assignment needs to have a purpose that contributes to the overall mission of the organization.  Educating kids, serving the residents of your city or town, protecting our future.

It needs meaning.  Tom Rath, whose new book Are You Fully Charged?  talks about creating meaning in all the work you do.

Meaning is not created equal

What is meaningful to you may not be to me.  That’s the big challenge.  Creating the meaningful light duty assignment.  To create meaning for an injured employee, you have to get to know that employee and find out what motivates them and drives them to get up every morning in spite of their pain and suffering and shuffle down to the office. How you evaluate and assign each injured person will be the key to determining if the job will be meaningful. Each person is different and their motivators are different.  While not all jobs will be meaningful to all people, I do believe there are some characteristics/criteria that will help create meaning for everyone.

Here are some things to think about when designing meaningful jobs.

First and foremost, don’t call it a light duty assignment.  Call it a special project.  Doing this will create a sense of meaning right away.

  1. The Why. You must explain “why” the job is important and how it contributes to the overall success and mission of the district. Educating kids and making the world a better place.  As Rath explains the book, “Whenever possible, get your motivation from doing things that contribute to a collective good. Incentives based on group performance have been shown to boost innovation more than individual incentives”


  1. Enjoyable. The job must be somewhat enjoyable. You may be thinking this could lead to someone not wanting to go back to their regular assignment, don’t worry, it is better leave happy than sad. Leaving the enjoyable work on a high note will help build good will with the district and fellow employees. Also, someone that is happy and feeling good is more likely to heal faster and avoid depression and the like.


  1. Good Leader. The person supervising the injured worker must be a really good leader. They must buy into the vision of the district and also the light duty assignment. They must be caring, firm and inspiring.


  1. Friends and Socialization. The injured person should not be isolated to perform the work. They should be in a setting where they can participate with fellow employees and partake in the daily activities. They should be allowed to develop working relationships with others who they rarely are involved with.


  1. Thanks.   The injured person should be thanked for their work on the “special” project and told how much it contributed to the overall mission of the district.  The more positive exchanges between coworkers the better.   “Yes, this really does have tangible value that adds up over time,” writes Tom Rath. “Acknowledge the victory today so you can do it again tomorrow.”


  1. No busy work. Don’t give jobs that don’t “need” to be done. Assignments should be based on real need and actually contribute to something.
Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here.

2 thoughts on “Creating meaningful light duty jobs – can you do it?

  1. My favorite “special project” I assigned for a WC frequent flyer custodian that had standing limitations, was a rolling chair and chart, brass polish and a rag. He rolled through the district office polishing brass doorknobs. He made it about half-way through the district office and miraculously made a full recovery the next day.

    Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here.
  2. Most injured workers aren’t trying to game the system. As such, it can definitely be a challenge to provide meaningful duties when an injured employee is returning to work. Turnkey solutions, such as the Safety Ambassador Program, do exist though for employers who cannot create their own light duty jobs.

    Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here.

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