Return-to-work within a complex and dynamic organizational work disability system

Publication type
Journal article
Jetha A, Pransky G, Fish J, Hettinger LJ
Date published
2016 Jan 25
Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Open Access?

Background Return-to-work (RTW) within a complex organizational system can be associated with suboptimal outcomes. Purpose To apply a sociotechnical systems perspective to investigate complexity in RTW; to utilize system dynamics modeling (SDM) to examine how feedback relationships between individual, psychosocial, and organizational factors make up the work disability system and influence RTW. Methods SDMs were developed within two companies. Thirty stakeholders including senior managers, and frontline supervisors and workers participated in model building sessions. Participants were asked questions that elicited information about the structure of the work disability system and were translated into feedback loops. To parameterize the model, participants were asked to estimate the shape and magnitude of the relationship between key model components. Data from published literature were also accessed to supplement participant estimates. Data were entered into a model created in the software program Vensim. Simulations were conducted to examine how financial incentives and light duty work disability-related policies, utilized by the participating companies, influenced RTW likelihood and preparedness. Results The SDMs were multidimensional, including individual attitudinal characteristics, health factors, and organizational components. Among the causal pathways uncovered, psychosocial components including workplace social support, supervisor and co-worker pressure, and supervisor-frontline worker communication impacted RTW likelihood and preparedness. Interestingly, SDM simulations showed that work disability-related policies in both companies resulted in a diminishing or opposing impact on RTW preparedness and likelihood. Conclusion SDM provides a novel systems view of RTW. Policy and psychosocial component relationships within the system have important implications for RTW, and may contribute to unanticipated outcomes