A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders

Work. 2014;48(4):579-89. doi: 10.3233/WOR-141914.


Background: Workplace absenteeism is still a curse for developed countries, and more systematic practices need to be adopted to address this issue.

Objective: To review the literature on best practices for managing work absences related to musculoskeletal or common mental disorders.

Methods: A review was conducted by performing a search in bibliographic databases and on work-disability research institute websites. Recommendations regarding work-absence management and return-to-work practices were extracted from all the retained documents and organized within a chronological framework.

Results: In total, 17 documents were analyzed, leading to identification of common work-absence management and return-to-work practices, the importance of a worker support approach, and recommended roles and responsibilities for stakeholders. These practices were then integrated into a six-step process: (1) time off and recovery period; (2) initial contact with the worker; (3) evaluation of the worker and his job tasks; (4) development of a return-to-work plan with accommodations; (5) work resumption, and (6) follow-up of the return-to-work process.

Conclusions: Based on this review, we constructed a comprehensive work-absence management and return-to-work process designed to assist organizations. Our results indicate that such a process must be included within a broader policy of health promotion and job retention. Adaptations will be required for implementation in the workplace.

Keywords: Absenteeism; mental illness; organizational policy; pain; work disability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Convalescence
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Return to Work*
  • Sick Leave
  • Work Capacity Evaluation
  • Workplace / organization & administration