Sustainable return to work: A systematic review focusing on personal and social factors

Abasiama Etuknwa, Kevin Daniels, Constanze Eib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose: A systematic review was conducted to evaluate the impact of important personal and social factors on sustainable return to work (RTW) after ill-health due musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and common mental disorders (CMDs) and to compare the effects of these personal and social factors across both conditions. Sustainable RTW is defined as a stable full-time or part-time RTW to either original or modified job for a period of at least three months without relapse or sickness absence re-occurrence.
Methods: A literature search was conducted in 13 databases and 79 studies were selected for the review, of which the methodological design was graded as very high, high and low quality.
Results: The most consistent evidence for achieving sustainable RTW for both MSDs and CMDs was from support from line managers or supervisors and co-workers, positive attitude, self-efficacy, young age and higher education levels. Job crafting, economic status, length of absence and job contract/security showed promising results, but too few studies exist to draw definite conclusions. Results regarding gender were inconsistent.
Conclusions: This review demonstrates that a variety of personal and social factors have positive and negative influences on sustainable RTW. We suggest that the social environment and how it interrelates with personal factors like attitudes and self-efficacy should be studied in more detail in the future as the inter-relationship between these factors appears to impact positively on sustainable RTW outcomes. Areas for future research include more high-quality studies on job crafting, economic status/income, length of absence, job contract/security and gender.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-700
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Issue number4
Early online date15 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Return to work.
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Mental disorders
  • Systematic review
  • Occupational health.

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