Seminar Presentation 8-2

8-2 (Presentation within Topical Seminar 8):
Supervisors' experiences with the return-to-work process of hospital workers that have been absent from work due to a health problem

Presented by: Mette Jensen Stochkendahl

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Stochkendahl MJ1, Myburgh C2, Young AE3, Hartvigsen J1,2

  1. Nordic Institute of Chiropractic and Clinical Biomechanics, Odense, Denmark
  2. Institute of Sports Science and Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  3. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Boston, USA



Supervisors are key stakeholders in successful return to work (RTW) because of their proximity with workers. Supervisors are ideally positioned to facilitate the RTW process because they have first-hand knowledge of both the worker and the workplace. Yet, supervisors can also hamper the RTW process if they do not have the necessary competencies, level of engagement, and communication with the worker. In Denmark, responsibility for securing the workers’ return to the workplace lies legislatively outside of the workplace, and the workplace is not routinely included in the RTW process. Previous research on supervisors roles in the RTW process have primarily been conducted in contexts where the workplace has organizational responsibility for the RTW process, and very little is known about supervisors’ roles in the Danish context.


We conducted an exploratory qualitative pilot study to understand the experience of managers who had been involved in RTW procedures, including the managers’ roles and contributions to the process. Using purposive sampling, 19 hospital supervisors in charge of conducting sick leave interviews participated in a face-to-face or focus group interview in order to identify barriers and facilitators for supporting absent workers in their RTW. Using an inductive approach, we first conducted five individual interviews followed by two focus group interviews with seven participants in each group. Data were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using a constant comparative analysis approach.


The findings indicated that supervisors’ capacity to support returning workers was related to the 1) workers’ level of social capital, 2) early contact with the returning worker and a systematic approach to follow-up contacts, 3) organizational latitude to provide modified duties, and 4) duration of the required support. Several instances occurred where supervisors faced a dilemma of balancing ethical and managerial principles with requirements for keeping staff budgets. Moreover, supervisors continuously balanced considerations for the returning worker and his or her co-workers.


Supervisors are key stakeholders in the RTW process, but currently face dilemmas regarding principles of care, showing team considerations and keeping the budget for staffing.