Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 264–273 | Cite as

The Work Ability Divide: Holistic and Reductionistic Approaches in Swedish Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Teams

  • Christian StåhlEmail author
  • Tommy Svensson
  • Gunilla Petersson
  • Kerstin Ekberg


Introduction Stakeholder cooperation in return to work has been increasingly emphasised in research, while studies on how such cooperation works in practise are scarce. This article investigates the relationship between professionals in Swedish interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams, and the aim of the article is to determine the participants’ definitions and uses of the concept of work ability. Methods The methods chosen were individual interviews with primary health care centre managers and focus groups with twelve interdisciplinary teams including social insurance officers, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, medical social workers and coordinators. Results The results show that the teams have had problems with reaching a common understanding of their task, due to an inherent tension between the stakeholders. This tension is primarily a result of two factors: divergent perspectives on work ability between the health professionals and the Social Insurance Agency, and different approaches to cooperative work among physicians. Health professionals share a holistic view on work ability, relating it to a variety of factors. Social insurance officers, on the other hand, represent a reductionistic stance, where work ability is reduced to medical status. Assessments of work ability therefore tend to become a negotiation between insurance officers and physicians. Conclusions A suggestion from the study is that the teams, with proper education, could be used as an arena for planning and coordinating return-to-work, which would strengthen their potential in managing the prevention of work disability.


Work ability Return to work Cooperation Team Interdisciplinary 



The authors wish to thank Linda Schultz for assisting with the data collection, Peter Johansson and Grace Hagberg for help with the selection of participants, Lars-Christer Hydén for comments on the design, and Åsa Tjulin for valuable support during the revision of the text.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

CS: study design, fieldwork, first draughts of the analysis and writing the text. KE: study design, examining and commenting on the analysis and the manuscript. TS and GP: examining and commenting on the analysis and the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Ståhl
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tommy Svensson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Gunilla Petersson
    • 3
  • Kerstin Ekberg
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical and Health Sciences, National Centre for Work and RehabilitationLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.HELIX VINN Excellence CentreLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  3. 3.Division of Sociology, Department of Behavioural Sciences and LearningLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  4. 4.Nordic School of Public HealthGöteborgSweden

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