Purpose: The objective was to explore the role and contribution of co-workers in the return-to-work process. The social interaction of co-workers in the return-to-work process are analysed within the framework of the Swedish national and local employer organisational return-to-work policies.
Methods: An exploratory qualitative method was used, consisting of open-ended interviews with 33 workplace actors across seven work units. Organisational return-to-work policies were collected from the three public sector employers.
Results: The key findings that emerged during analysis showed that some co-workers have a more work-task oriented approach towards the return-to-work process, whilst others had a more social relational approach. In both situations, the social relations worked hand in hand with job tasks (how task were allocated, and how returning workers were supported by others) and could make or break the return-to-work process.
Conclusion: A suggestion for improvement of return-to-work models and policies is the need to take into account the social relations amongst workplace actors, especially involving co-workers when planning for return-to-work interventions. Otherwise the proper attention to work arrangements, social communication and the role of co-workers in the return-to-work process might not be seen.