Research/studies Return to work Worker Health and Wellness

Colleague support, good attitude necessary for successful return to work, researchers say

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Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

Norwich, England — A positive attitude and supportive co-workers are among the most important factors for a successful return to work for an employee who has been on leave for an injury or illness, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia and Uppsala University.

Reviewing 79 studies conducted between 1989 and 2017, the researchers examined the impact of personal and social factors on sustainable return to work after an absence resulting from musculoskeletal disorders or common mental health disorders, including stress, anxiety and depression.

A sustained return to work – defined in the study as coming back to an original or modified job full or part time for at least three months without reoccurrence of health issues – depends on a combination of personal and social factors.

A positive attitude and high self-efficacy were strong personal factors in an employee’s sustained return, as were younger age and higher levels of education. Along with support from co-workers and bosses, another beneficial social factor in a successful return to work was job crafting – the practice of allowing workers to redesign their jobs. This helps employees redefine the social environment of their work and relationships with others, the researchers said.

The review states that a sustainable return to work was more successful when personal and social factors both were present.

“Promoting a culture of support at the workplace is essential, a culture that makes returning workers feel valued, worthy and not necessarily blamed for absence, as the former would improve work attitudes and ease the transition back to work,” Abasiama Etuknwa, a postgraduate researcher at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said in a Feb. 15 press release. “Existing return-to-work programs need to encourage supportive interactions between leaders and co-workers and returning workers during the process.”

The study was published online Feb. 15 in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

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