Intervention characteristics that facilitate return to work after sickness absence: a systematic literature review

J Occup Rehabil. 2012 Dec;22(4):462-77. doi: 10.1007/s10926-012-9359-z.


Introduction: In many Western countries, a vast amount of interventions exist that aim to facilitate return to work (RTW) after sickness absence. These interventions are usually focused on specific target populations such as employees with low back pain, stress-related complaints or adjustment disorders. The aim of the present study is to detect and identify characteristics of RTW interventions that generally facilitate return to work (i.e. in multiple target populations and across interventions). This type of knowledge is highly relevant to policy makers and health practitioners who want to deliver evidence based care that supports the employee's health and participation in labour.

Methods: We performed a keyword search (systematic literature review) in seven databases (period: 1994-2010). In total, 23 articles were included and assessed for their methodological quality. The characteristics of the interventions were evaluated as well.

Results: Early interventions, initiated in the first 6 weeks of the RTW process were scarce. These were effective to support RTW though. Multidisciplinary interventions appeared effective to support RTW in multiple target groups (e.g. back pain and adjustment disorders). Time contingent interventions in which activities followed a pre-defined schedule were effective in all physical complaints studied in this review. Activating interventions such as gradual RTW were effective in physical complaints. They have not been studied for people with psychological complaints.

Conclusions: Early- and multidisciplinary intervention and time-contingent-, activating interventions appear most effective to support RTW.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Humans
  • Occupational Health Services
  • Rehabilitation, Vocational
  • Return to Work*
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Work