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Returning and staying connected to work after long-term sickness absence

07 Nov 2016


Abstract
Background

Returning to work (RTW) after long-term sickness absence is a challenge for convalescent workers, co-workers, managers and organizations. Few studies have investigated the post-return phase after long-term sickness absence.

Aims

To investigate the RTW process as experienced by returning workers, co-workers and managers at an emergency care service and a waste disposal company, exploring various perspectives related to early RTW before full recovery and changes in the returning workers’ work positions.

Methods

An ethnographic field work design was employed. Returning workers with musculoskeletal disorders, co-workers and managers at two different workplaces participated in individual and group interviews and underwent participant observation over 5 months. These were repeated in a 2-week period after a 4-month interval. Grounded theory analysis was used to identify themes of importance.

Results

Four main themes were identified: (1) return before full recovery, (2) changes in work tasks, (3) changes in work position and (4) individual responsibility.

Conclusions

Our results illustrate how returning workers, co-workers and managers at two workplaces experienced the RTW process. The results highlight some of the challenges that occur when returning at an early stage before full recovery is obtained leading to changes in the returning worker’s work position.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Occupational Medicine