Bringing the worker voice to the mental injury claims process

WorkSafe Victoria engaged us to improve mental injury return to work (RTW) outcomes.

A mobile phone screen showing the Worksafe website with specific support materials to help people return to work after mental health injury.
  • Clear understanding of the complexity and challenges of the mental injury return-to-work journey across the organisation

  • Clear and actionable set of ‘jobs to be done’ by workers, employers, and other parties that can be addressed through future design work

  • 7 promising concepts and 1 priority concept for workplace to address RTW issues, now in development

  • 20+ ‘parked’ concepts to research at a later date

Framing the challenge

Workplace mental injury has been recognised as a major issue in Australia, due to the negative impact on individual employees and the high workplace cost associated with their conditions.

This is evidenced by:

  • While making up only 6% of claims, workplace mental health costs are disproportionate due to typically longer periods away from work and higher pay-outs
  • The proportion of workers returning to work are low (50.73%) and declining (–5.1% in the year ending June 2019)
  • The number of mental injury claims being lodged in Victoria is rising
  • Previous ‘process-centred’ interventions have not resulted in the improved RTW outcomes that had been anticipated

Our project concentrated solely on workers and employers from small–medium enterprises (SMEs), as they often lack the experience, resources and expertise required to manage claims found within larger organisations.

Our human-centred approach takes the experiences of both employers and employees seriously

Working closely with the WorkSafe Victoria Return to Work and Innovation teams, Paper Giant applied human-centred design tools and methods to the challenge of improving RTW rates for workers with a mental injury.

Over the course of fifty 1:1 interviews with subject matter experts, injured workers and employers, we developed a nuanced appreciation of the challenges both workers and employers face in their pre, during and post-claim experiences.

The research team applied the ethics framework developed by Paper Giant for research and design. Researchers ensured that participants knew where to turn to for support, with a pre-prepared ‘Psychological Safety Pack’ made available.

A page from the support pack developed as part of the project that sign posted key supports that participants could access if the interview raised any issues for them.

The support pack developed for participants

Employers and employees have two distinct journeys

For employers – largely under-resourced and uneducated on the topic of mental wellbeing – their limited ability to detect and respond to staff needs was often experienced as neglect by the injured worker.

While an employer primarily feels financial effects, the worker’s journey is emotionally taxing. It is repeatedly plagued by experiences of shame, isolation, uncertainty and powerlessness, limiting their ability to rebuild, recover, and return to work.

An illustration showing the keys steps of the worker journey whilst returning to work after a mental health injury. From working, to recognising harm, to seeking help, to making a claim and waiting for the outcomes of those processes.
A page showing details of the jobs to be done for workers in terms of needs, pains and agains to be addressed.
An illustration showing the employer journey which is a loop made up of 4 steps. Managing staff, responding to claims, managing claims and closing claims.
A page showing details of the jobs to be done for employers in terms of needs, pains and agains to be addressed.


Giving voice to the injured worker

Building on the insights from our research, we generated a number of intervention concepts, seven of which were taken into testing with employers and workers. Each of the seven interventions seeks to strengthen workers’ capacity for connection, to build their confidence, and, ultimately, increase their likelihood of recovery and a successful return to work.

Each concept addresses pain points as well as moments that workers and employers identified as being most likely to expedite a successful return to work.

While ambitious in their aspiration, each concept was carefully considered in terms of the steps required to evolve the concept further, allowing for a risk-managed and iterative path to market.

Continuing after this project’s completion, the end-to-end experience maps and ‘jobs to be done’ identify numerous opportunities for future attention – perhaps most importantly at the prevention stage, and in the critical 28-day claim-pending period.

A mobile phone mock up showing the stepping stones concept - which is a set of carefully crafted content to help people return to work.
A mock up of two mobile phones showing a podcast series called helping hands that help people to look after themselves after a mental health injury.
A mock up with a pack of cards that can be used to facilitate difficult conversations between employees and managers.

Prioritised concepts from the project each of which has actions for the now, next and future to make them happen


To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.

Whether as interviewed subject matter experts, or invitees to our regular showcases, the project team made deliberate efforts to ensure key stakeholders such as agents and internal partners were engaged across the project.

Our collaborative approach means a coalition of potential partners and internal sponsors have already formed around a number of concepts, dramatically increasing the likelihood of multiple interventions being developed further.

Subscribe to Paper Giant

Each month, our team share their thoughts on design-related topics, reflect on current social issues and share what’s happening in and out of the studio. We'll also include an invitation to our monthly meet up, Office Hours. We'd love you to join us.

Three paper airplanes flying through the air into people's inboxes.
Paper Giant

Paper Giant acknowledges the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation, the Ngunnawal and Bundjalung people as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our offices are located.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country on which we meet and work throughout Australia. We recognise that sovereignty over the land has never been ceded, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of deceased people.