Exploring the meaning of early contact in return-to-work from workplace actors' perspective
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PURPOSE: The objective of this article was to explore the meaning of early contact in return-to-work, and how social relational actions and conditions can facilitate or impede early contact among actors in the workplace. METHOD: An exploratory qualitative method was used, consisting of individual open-ended interviews with 33 workplace actors at seven worksites across three public employers in Sweden. The workplace actors represented in these interviews included re-entering workers, supervisors, co-workers and human resources managers. Organisational policies on return-to-work were collected from the three employers. RESULTS: The analysis indicated that early contact is a complex return-to-work measure with shifting incentives among workplace actors for making contact. For instance, the findings indicated obligation and responsibilities as incentives, incentives through social relations, and the need to acknowledge and balance the individual needs in relation to early contact. CONCLUSION: The findings strengthen the importance of early contact as a concept with a social relational context that comprises more than just an activity carried out (or not) by the employer, and suggest that early contact with a sick-listed worker is not always the best approach for a return-to-work situation. This study provides a starting point for a more articulated conceptualisation of early contact.
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