Purpose: We conducted a qualitative study into the return-to-work process of workers partially on sick leave due to common mental disorders. Our objectives were to describe the barriers to a full return to work, solutions, communicating to the working environment and the aim of a full return to work, all as perceived by the workers.
Method: Workers who had partially returned to work and were partially on long-term sick leave due to a stress-related, anxiety or depressive disorder were eligible for this study. Fourteen workers were interviewed and the interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded.
Results: The perceived main barriers were: inability to set limits, recognise exhaustion and to control cognitions and behaviour such as perfectionism. A general pattern in the process was that all workers perceived barriers to a full return to work; most workers were able to mention solutions; all workers aimed for a full return to work, and after some time all workers were met with sufficient understanding and social support from their supervisor and health care professional. However, hardly any worker intended to implement or utilise the solutions at the workplace, except the structural adaptations of the work demands.
Conclusions: The pattern we found suggests a critical intention-behaviour gap between solutions and intentions for a full return to work and its implementation at work. This implies that we should develop new interventions that focus on helping workers and their environment to bridge this gap.