The return to work discussion: a qualitative study of the line manager conversation about return to work and the development of an educational programme

J Rehabil Med. 2012 Jul;44(8):677-83. doi: 10.2340/16501977-0996.


Objective: To investigate the conversation between line manager and employee about return to work to inform the development of an online interactive educational programme for line managers to improve the effectiveness of their discussions.

Design: An inductive qualitative approach, using the principles of action research and motivational interviewing were adopted. The results informed the development of the educational programme for line managers.

Subjects: Middle grade line managers in a large public services employer in the UK.

Methods: Four discussion groups were conducted over a period of 8 months. Line managers explored the challenges of the return to work interview, analysed their interactions with employees and constructed the content of an educational programme. Multiple methods were used to build engagement with participants, including video and role-play.

Results: Nine line managers were recruited across 3 business areas. Managers recognised that their conversations focused on the organisations' policies and procedures and the outcome, rather than the interaction. They recognised the strength of shifting style to shared decision-making and guidance rather than process and instruction. These communication strategies were depicted in the educational programme.

Conclusion: The content and flow of the return to work discussion is of high importance and influences employee behaviour and return to work outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Occupational Health Services*
  • Organizational Policy
  • Program Development*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Return to Work*
  • Staff Development / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom