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A workplace intervention for sick-listed employees with distress: results of a randomised controlled trial
  1. Sandra H van Oostrom1,
  2. Willem van Mechelen1,
  3. Berend Terluin2,
  4. Henrica C W de Vet3,
  5. Dirk L Knol3,
  6. Johannes R Anema1
  1. 1Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  2. 2Department of General Practice, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Johannes R Anema, Department of Public and Occupational Health and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Van der Boechorststraat 7, Amsterdam 1081 BT, the Netherlands; h.anema{at}vumc.nl

Abstract

Objectives To evaluate the effectiveness of a participatory workplace intervention compared with usual care for sick-listed employees with distress, with regard to return to work (RTW) within the 12-month follow-up.

Methods Employees with distress and sick-listed for 2–8 weeks were randomised to a workplace intervention (n=73) or to usual care (n=72). The participatory workplace intervention is a stepwise process involving the sick-listed employee and their supervisor, aimed at reducing obstacles for RTW by reaching consensus about an action plan for RTW. Outcome variables were lasting RTW, cumulative sickness absence and stress-related symptoms.

Results Overall, an HR of 0.99 (95% CI 0.70 to 1.39) indicated no effect of the workplace intervention on lasting RTW. However, the workplace intervention significantly reduced the time until lasting RTW for employees who at baseline intended to return to work despite symptoms with an HR of 2.05 (95% CI 1.22 to 3.45). Employees who intended to return to work despite symptoms returned to work after 55 days in the workplace intervention group and 120 days in the usual care group. No such effect of the intervention was found for employees without baseline intentions to return to work despite symptoms (HR=0.78, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.28).

Conclusions No overall effect of the participatory workplace intervention on lasting RTW was found. The workplace intervention appeared effective on lasting RTW for employees who at baseline intended to return to work despite symptoms. For employees who showed no baseline intention to return to work, the intervention did not have any effect. Other approaches are needed for this subgroup.

This trial has been registered at the Dutch National Trial Register ISRCTN92307123.

  • Distress
  • return to work
  • randomised controlled trial
  • workplace intervention
  • occupational health practice
  • stress
  • burnout
  • rehabilitation
  • sickness absence

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Footnotes

  • Linked articles 051979.

  • Funding This study is financially supported by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the participating occupational health services.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Committee of VU University Medical Center.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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