Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 553–564 | Cite as

Policy and Practice of Work Ability: A Negotiation of Responsibility in Organizing Return to Work

  • Ida SeingEmail author
  • Christian Ståhl
  • Lennart Nordenfelt
  • Pia Bülow
  • Kerstin Ekberg


Purpose In welfare policy and practical work it is unclear what the concept of work ability involves and assessments may be different among involved actors, partly due to a lack of theoretical research in relation to regulations and practice. Based on theoretical and legal aspects of work ability the aim of the study is to analyze stakeholders’ perspectives on work ability in local practice by studying multi-stakeholder meetings. Methods The material comprises nine digitally recorded multi-stakeholder meetings. Apart from the sick-listed individual, representatives from the public Social Insurance Agency, health care, employers, public employment service and the union participated in the meeting. The material was analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Results Three perspectives on work ability were identified: a medical perspective, a workplace perspective and a regulatory perspective. The meetings developed into negotiations of responsibility concerning workplace adjustments, rehabilitation efforts and financial support. Medical assessments served as objective expert statements to legitimize stakeholders’ perspectives on work ability and return to work. Conclusions Although the formal goal of the status meeting was to facilitate stakeholder collaboration, the results demonstrates an unequal distribution of power among cooperating actors where the employers had the “trump card” due to their possibilities to offer workplace adjustments. The employer perspective often determined whether or not persons could return to work and if they had work ability.


Work ability Return to work Employers Multi-stakeholder meeting 



The authors would like to thank Ellen MacEachen for valuable comments during the finalization of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ida Seing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christian Ståhl
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lennart Nordenfelt
    • 3
  • Pia Bülow
    • 4
  • Kerstin Ekberg
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical and Health SciencesNational Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.HELIX VINN Exellence CentreLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  3. 3.Division of Health and Society, Department of Medical and Health SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  4. 4.Department of Behavioral Science and Social Work, School of Health SciencesJönköping UniversityJönköpingSweden

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