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Return to work or job transition?: Employer dilemmas in taking social responsibility for return to work in local workplace practice
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Division of Community Medicine. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences.
Department of Public Health and Health Systems, Faculty of Applied Public Health, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Division of Community Medicine. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences. Linköping University, HELIX Vinn Excellence Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8031-7651
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Division of Community Medicine. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences. Linköping University, HELIX Vinn Excellence Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3310-0895
2015 (English)In: Disability and Rehabilitation, ISSN 0963-8288, E-ISSN 1464-5165, Vol. 37, no 18-19, 1760-1769 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: The aim was to analyze the role and activities of employers with regard to return to work (RTW), in local workplace practice.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sick-listed workers and their supervisors in 18 workplaces (n  = 36). The analytical approach to study the role of employers in RTW was based on the three-domain model of social corporate responsibility. The model illustrates the linkage between corporations and their social environment, and consists of three areas of corporate responsibility: economic, legal and ethical.

Results: Employers had difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW, in that economic considerations regarding their business took precedence over legal and ethical considerations. Employers engaged in either “RTW activities” or “transition activities” that were applied differently depending on how valued sick-listed workers were considered to be to their business, and on the nature of the job (e.g. availability of suitable work adjustments).

Conclusions: This study suggests that Swedish legislation and policies does not always adequately prompt employers to engage in RTW. There is a need for further attention to the organizational conditions for employers to take social responsibility for RTW in the context of business pressure and work intensification.

Implications for Rehabilitation

  • Employers may have difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW when economic considerations regarding their business take precedence over legal and ethical considerations.
  • Rehabilitation professionals should be aware of that outcomes of an RTW process can be influenced by the worker’s value to the employer and the nature of the job (e.g. availability of suitable work adjustments). “Low-value” workers at workplaces with limited possibilities to offer workplace adjustments may run a high risk of dismissal.
  • Swedish legislation and policies may need reforms to put more pressure on employers to promote RTW.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Informa Healthcare, 2015. Vol. 37, no 18-19, 1760-1769 p.
Keyword [en]
Activation policy, employers, sick leave, work accommodation, workplace
National Category
Occupational Therapy Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology Political Science Sociology Work Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-112397DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2014.978509ISI: 000359878700020PubMedID: 25355548OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-112397DiVA: diva2:765931
Available from: 2014-11-25 Created: 2014-11-25 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Activating the Sick-Listed: Policy and Practice of Return to Work in Swedish Sickness Insurance and Working Life
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Activating the Sick-Listed: Policy and Practice of Return to Work in Swedish Sickness Insurance and Working Life
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A critical task of social policy in most Western welfare states during recent decades has consisted of reducing the economic burden on society due to sick leave, by stimulating participation in the labour market. Many jurisdictions have introduced activation policies, based on the premise that work “per se” has a therapeutic effect on sick-listed workers. People are expected to be “active”, rather than “passive”, recipients of financial benefits. However, there is limited knowledge of how activation policies focusing on return to work (RTW) are carried out in local practice. Against this background, the overall aim of this thesis is to study the local practice of activation policies by analysing how they are received, implemented and experienced by welfare state organizations, employers and sick-listed workers. The analysis has been influenced by theories concerning organization fields, individualization, street-level bureaucracy and organizational governance.

In this thesis, the overall aim is investigated in four interrelated papers. In Paper I, the aim is to analyse the perspectives of stakeholders (i.e. welfare state actors and employers) on work ability by studying multistakeholder meetings. Paper II sheds light on activation policy, focusing on early RTW in the context of modern working conditions; the aim is to analyse RTW practice in local workplace contexts, in relation to Swedish early-RTW policy. The third paper focuses on employers, with the aim of analysing their role and activities regarding RTW, in local workplace practice. In Paper IV, the aim is to analyse sick-listed workers’ experiences of the sickness insurance system in their contact with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (SSIA) and their front-line staff.

The empirical material comprises two empirical studies: 1) audio-recorded multi-stakeholder meetings from regular practice (n=9) and 2) semi-structured interviews with sick-listed workers and their supervisors in 18 workplaces (n=36). The analyses of the material have been performed in accordance with the principles of qualitative content analysis.

Main findings of the papers reflect strong organizational boundaries in the implementation process of activation policies. Welfare state actors and employers appear to be governed by their own organizational logics and interests, so the actors involved fail to take a holistic view of sick-listed workers and do not share a common social responsibility for individuals’ RTW. This thesis illustrates how current activation policies focusing on RTW are based on a rather idealized image of the standard workplace. There is an explicit or implicit assumption that employers and work organizations are able to welcome sick-listed workers back to work in a healthy way. However, the intensity of modern working life leaves limited room for accommodating people with reduced work ability, who are not considered to have a business value to the workplace. In several cases, findings indicate that the SSIA’s focus on activation and early RTW clashes with the financially oriented perspective of employers. Economic considerations regarding their business take precedence over legal and ethical considerations, and employers have difficulty taking social responsibility for RTW. Sick-listed workers are encouraged to adjust to new workplace settings and environments to meet the demands of the workplace, and, if RTW is not possible, to the demands of the labour market. The findings also show that sick-listed workers experience that contacts with the SSIA are ‘standardized’; i.e., they perceive that the officials are loyal  to demands in their organizations rather than being involved actors who support workers’ individual needs. Sick-listed workers clearly experience that measures in Swedish activation policies have a strong focus on demanding aspects (financial work incentives) and less on enabling aspects (investments in skills).

Overall, this thesis illustrates an emerging social climate where sick-listed workers are positioned as active agents who must take responsibility for their sick leave and their RTW process. In a Swedish context, RTW is a matter of activating the sick-listed rather than activating the workplace.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. 71 p.
Series
Linköping University Medical Dissertations, ISSN 0345-0082 ; 1421
Keyword
Activation policies, return to work, social policy, sickness insurance, working life, employers, street-level bureaucracy, individualization
National Category
Occupational Therapy Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology Political Science Sociology Work Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-112400 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-112400 (DOI)978-91-7519-232-1 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-12-19, Aulan, Hälsans Hus, Campus US, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2014-11-25 Created: 2014-11-25 Last updated: 2014-11-26Bibliographically approved

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