Workplace managers' view of the role of co-workers in return-to-work

Debra A. Dunstan*, Ellen MacEachen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Theoretical and empirical research findings attest to the workplace being a social environment in which co-workers have a critical influence on the employment outcomes and return-to-work (RTW) success of other employees. However, co-workers do not have a formal role in RTW planning. The aim of this study was to explore how managers responsible for developing and implementing RTW procedures view the role of co-workers in this process.

Method: An exploratory qualitative pilot study was conducted in Canada. Participants (1 male; 13 females; mean experience in RTW = 11.8 years) were workplace (n=8) or RTW managers (n=6) with direct oversight of RTW plans. The participants were recruited via invitation from a research institute and were drawn from three different provinces. Data were gathered via open-ended questions and were coded and subject to thematic analysis.

Findings: Three key themes were identified: (1) Managers view RTW as having little relevance to co-workers but expect them to cooperate with the arrangements; (2) Formal procedures are inadequate when psychosocial barriers to work resumption are present, so managers use informal strategies to engage co-workers' emotional and social support; and (3) Managers have difficulty integrating RTW procedures with other legal obligations, such as privacy and confidentiality requirements.

Conclusion: Existing arrangements for the development and implementation of RTW are sufficient most of the time, but may be inadequate when an injured worker presents with psychosocial barriers to work resumption.


Standard RTW arrangements can be inadequate when a RTW plan requires active co-worker support.

Privacy and confidentiality provisions can result in managers using informal procedures for information exchange and to engage co-workers.

The use of risk management strategies - assessment, consultation and communication - could be used to include co-workers when workplace issues threaten the success of a RTW plan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2324-2333
Number of pages10
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Injury management policy
  • social context of work
  • work reintegration
  • workers’ compensation


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