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An exploration of social support as a factor in the return-to-work process


Despite evidence that inter-personal relationships are important in human resource management, little is understood about the nature of workplace social support in a disability context, or what features of support are important to the success of return-to-work programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore workplace disability support from worker and supervisory perspectives and to identify salient features for work re-entry. A total of 8 supervisors and 18 previously injured workers from a range of work units in a Canadian municipality were interviewed, and their views concerning supportive and unsupportive behaviours in work-re-entry situations were recorded and analyzed. A full range of social support dimensions were reported to be relevant, and were seen as arising from a variety of sources (e.g. supervisor, co-workers, disability manager, work unit, and outside of work). Respondents identified trust, communication and knowledge of disability as key precursors to a successful return-to-work process. Future research should explore the specific contributions of support to work rehabilitation outcomes as well as interventions to enhance available supports.