Exploring Workplace Actors Experiences of the Social Organization of Return-to-Work
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INTRODUCTION: There is a limited body of research on how the actual social exchange among workplace actors influences the practice of return-to-work. The objective of this study was to explore how workplace actors experience social relations at the workplace and how organizational dynamics in workplace-based return-to-work extends before and beyond the initial return of the sick listed worker to the workplace. METHOD: An exploratory qualitative method approach was used, consisting of individual open-ended interviews with 33 workplace actors at seven worksites that had re-entering workers. The workplace actors represented in these interviews include: re-entering workers, supervisors, co-workers, and human resource managers. RESULTS: The analysis identified three distinct phases in the return to work process: while the worker is off work, when the worker returns back to work, and once back at work during the phase of sustainability of work ability. The two prominent themes that emerged across these phases include the theme of invisibility in relation to return-to-work effort and uncertainty, particularly, about how and when to enact return-to-work. CONCLUSION: The findings strengthen the notion that workplace-based return-to-work interventions need to take social relations amongst workplace actors into account. They also highlight the importance and relevance of the varied roles of different workplace actors during two relatively unseen or grey areas, of return-to-work: the pre-return and the post-return sustainability phase. Attention to the invisibility of return-to-work efforts of some actors and uncertainty about how and when to enact return-to-work between workplace actors can promote successful and sustainable work ability for the re-entering worker.
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