Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 311–321 | Cite as

Exploring Workplace Actors Experiences of the Social Organization of Return-to-Work

  • Åsa Tjulin
  • Ellen MacEachen
  • Kerstin Ekberg


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.


Social relations Social organization Workplace-based return-to-work Qualitative 



This work was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant(s) FRN: 53909″, Work Disability Prevention Strategic Training Program. HELIX Vinn Excellence Centre, Linköping University, Sweden. The Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Åsa Tjulin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ellen MacEachen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Kerstin Ekberg
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical and Health Sciences, National Centre for Work and RehabilitationLinkoping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.HELIX Vinn Excellence CentreLinkoping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  3. 3.Institute for Work & HealthTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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