Seminar Presentation 2-4

2-4 (Presentation within Topical Seminar 2):
Looking beyond return to work: work functioning in workers who returned to work after sickness absence due to common mental disorders

Presented by: Ute Bültmann


Bültmann U1, Abma FI1, Amick III B2,3, van der Klink JJL1, Arends I1

  1. University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen. Groningen, The Netherlands
  2. Institute for Work & Health. Toronto, Canada
  3. Department of Health Policy and Management. Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. Florida International University. Miami, USA



Workers with common mental disorders (CMDs) are vulnerable to adverse work outcomes, such as sickness absence, work disability, and reduced on-the-job productivity. While several studies have examined the effects of interventions to facilitate return to work (RTW) in workers with CMD, little is known about the functioning of workers in the post RTW phase. The few studies looking beyond RTW focus mainly on mental health, while knowledge on health-related work functioning is lacking. More information on health-related work functioning after RTW is needed to prioritize and target efforts of (occupational) health care professionals and the workplace to assist and support workers after RTW. The aim of this study was to investigate health-related work functioning in workers who returned to work after sickness absence due to CMDs during 1-year follow-up.


This longitudinal study was conducted within a cluster-randomized controlled trial, evaluating the SHARP-at work intervention. The intervention was developed to prevent recurrent sickness absence in workers who returned to work after sickness absence due to CMDs. The study comprised 158 participants, aged 18 to 63 years, with partial or full RTW and occupational physician-diagnosed CMD. Health-related work functioning was measured with the Work Role Functioning Questionnaire at baseline, 3, 6 and 12 months follow-up. To examine differences in work functioning between the treatment and control group, linear mixed models with unstructured covariance matrices were used.


Health-related work functioning improved in both groups over time; from 66.92 to 79.43 and 61.01 to 74.68 in the treatment and control group, respectively. The treatment group reported better work functioning at 12 months compared to the control group. No significant group x time interaction was found.


Both groups showed low scores on health-related work functioning at baseline, but improved during the 1-year follow-up. Despite improvement over time, work functioning scores are rather low compared to the healthy population and should receive careful attention of (occupational) health care professionals and the workplace to support workers after their return to work.