A Participatory Workplace Intervention for Employees With Distress and Lost Time: A Feasibility Evaluation Within a Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Introduction

Little is known about feasibility and acceptability of return to work (RTW) interventions for mental health problems. RTW for mental health problems is more complicated than for musculoskeletal problems due to stigmatization at the workplace. A participatory workplace intervention was developed in which an employee and supervisor identify and prioritize obstacles and solutions for RTW guided by a RTW coordinator. This paper is a feasibility study of this innovative intervention for employees with distress. The aims of this study were to describe the reach and extent of implementation of the workplace intervention, the satisfaction and expectations of all stakeholders, and the intention to use the workplace intervention in the future.

Methods

Eligible for this study were employees who had been on sick leave from regular work for 2–8 weeks with distress. Data were collected from the employees, their supervisors, RTW coordinators, and occupational physicians by means of standardized matrices and questionnaires at baseline and 3 months follow-up. Reach, implementation, satisfaction, expectations, and maintenance regarding the workplace intervention were described.

Results

Of the 56 employees with distress eligible to receive the workplace intervention, 40 employees, their supervisors and RTW coordinators actually participated in the intervention. They identified 151 obstacles for RTW mostly related to job design, communication, mental workload and person-related stress factors. The 281 consensus-based solutions identified were mostly related to job design, communication and training. Of those solutions, 72% was realized at the evaluation with the employee and supervisor. Overall, employees, supervisors and occupational health professionals were satisfied with the workplace intervention and occupational health professionals rated it with a 7.1. Time-investment was the only barrier for implementation reported by the occupational health professionals.

Conclusions

The results of this study indicate a high feasibility for a broad implementation of a participatory workplace intervention for employees with distress and lost time, and their supervisors.

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