Identification of the return-to-work mode in unemployed workers with mental health issues: A focus group study among occupational health professionals

Yvonne Suijkerbuijk, Karen Nieuwenhuijsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Return-to-work (RTW) perceptions and attitudes are predictive for future work participation in workers with mental health issues. OBJECTIVE: To identify what RTW perceptions and attitudes occupational health professionals recognize in sick-listed unemployed workers with mental health issues and how these perceptions and attitudes can be systematically assessed. METHODS: Four focus group sessions, each involving five-six different occupational health professionals, were held. The audio records were transcribed verbatim and coded by two researchers independently. A thematic analysis was conducted. RESULTS: Professionals recognized RTW perceptions and attitudes in sick-listed unemployed workers with mental health issues. These perceptions and attitudes were described as characteristics of three modes in a process regarding RTW: the passive, ambivalent and active RTW mode. A passive RTW mode includes perceptions about not being able to work and an expectant attitude. The ambivalent RTW mode is characterized by uncertainty and ambivalence regarding RTW with a desire for occupational support. Workers in an active RTW mode have positive RTW perceptions and show job search behavior. A main theme was the flexible nature of RTW attitudes and perceptions, with workers switching between the passive, ambivalent and active RTW modes. For the assessment of the RTW mode, the professionals preferred personal contact, possibly with support of a tool. This enables them to ask specific questions and to observe non-verbal signs. CONCLUSIONS: Recurring assessments of the RTW mode can be helpful in identifying unemployed workers with mental health issues at risk of long-term sickness absence and for starting targeted RTW interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-906
Number of pages16
JournalWork (Reading, Mass.)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2023

Cite this