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

Kirsten S Petersen, Merete Labriola, C.V. Nielsen, Eva Ladekjær Larsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)725-730
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Qualitative research
  • Return to work
  • Sickness absence
  • Work places


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