Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 754–763 | Cite as

Work Disability Management Communication Bottlenecks Within Large and Complex Public Service Organizations: A Sociotechnical Systems Study

  • Arif JethaEmail author
  • Basak Yanar
  • A. Morgan Lay
  • Cameron Mustard


Purpose Within large and complex organizations work disability (WD) communication bottlenecks emerge and contribute to avoidable disability days. Our study utilized soft systems methods to better understand communication problems in WD management. Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted with disability case managers (n = 10), frontline supervisors (n = 15) and human resource/labor relations specialists (n = 5) within three public service organizations. Interview questions asked about organizational WD system structure and communication practices. Thematic analysis was conducted to examine system structure and emergent communication bottlenecks. Results WD communication took place across a number of internal and external stakeholders. Communication bottlenecks tended to concentrate within WD case manager and frontline supervisor activities. Inconsistent communication across organizations, challenges interacting with external stakeholders, mental health disability information exchange, lack of WD communication experience and previous worker performance represented communication bottlenecks that contributed to avoidable disability days. Conclusions To strengthen communication practices, systems-focused responses towards organizational WD management are required.


Communication Work disability management Return-to-work Systems thinking Soft systems methodology 



This research was supported by a Healthy and Productive Work Partnership Development Grant, Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. #890-2016-3001).

Author Contributions

All authors contributed to study conceptualization. AJ, BY and ML co-led data collection and analysis. AJ led manuscript development. CM, BY, ML contributed significantly to manuscript development and approved the final version published. Each author agrees to be accountable for all aspects of the work including accuracy and integrity of any part of the work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Work & HealthTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Dalla Lana School of PublicHealth University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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