Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 189–198 | Cite as

A Theoretical Model of Co-worker Responses to Work Reintegration Processes

  • Debra A. Dunstan
  • Ellen Maceachen


Purpose Emerging research has shown that co-workers have a significant influence on the return-to-work outcomes of partially fit ill or injured employees. By drawing on theoretical findings from the human resource and wider behavioral sciences literatures, our goal was to formulate a theoretical model of the influences on and outcomes of co-worker responses within work reintegration. Methods From a search of 15 data bases covering the social sciences, business and medicine, we identified articles containing models of the factors that influence co-workers’ responses to disability accommodations; and, the nature and impact of co-workers’ behaviors on employee outcomes. To meet our goal, we combined identified models to form a comprehensive model of the relevant factors and relationships. Internal consistency and externally validity were assessed. Results The combined model illustrates four key findings: (1) co-workers’ behaviors towards an accommodated employee are influenced by attributes of that employee, the illness or injury, the co-worker themselves, and the work environment; (2) the influences–behaviour relationship is mediated by perceptions of the fairness of the accommodation; (3) co-workers’ behaviors affect all work reintegration outcomes; and (4) co-workers’ behaviours can vary from support to antagonism and are moderated by type of support required, the social intensity of the job, and the level of antagonism. Conclusions Theoretical models from the wider literature are useful for understanding the impact of co-workers on the work reintegration process. To achieve optimal outcomes, co-workers need to perceive the arrangements as fair. Perceptions of fairness might be supported by co-workers’ collaborative engagement in the planning, monitoring and review of work reintegration activities.


Co-workers Fairness Return-to-work Accommodations Social environment Theory 



This paper was prepared with support from a University of New England, Australia, BCSS Staff Seed Grant.


  1. 1.
    WSIB. Work reintegration principles, concepts, and definitions. WSIB Ontario. 2012. Accessed 17 Jan 2013.
  2. 2.
    WorkCover NSW. If you get injured at work. Poster. NSW Government; n.d. Accessed 29 April 2013.
  3. 3.
    WorkCover WA. Injury management: a guide for employers. Shenton Park: WorkCover WA; 2011.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Franche R-L, Cullen K, Clarke J, Irvin E, Sinclair S, Frank J, Institute for Work and Health (IWH) Workplace-Based RTW Intervetnion Literature Review Research Team. Workplace-based return-to-work interventions: a systematic review of the quantitative literature. J Occup Rehabil. 2005;15(4):607–31. doi: 10.1007/s10926-005-8038-8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    New York State Workers Compenstaion Board. Return to Work Handbook.] Accessed 12 Mar 2011.
  6. 6.
    Tjulin A, MacEachen E, Ekberg K. Exploring workplace actors experiences of the social organization of return-to-work. J Occup Rehabil. 2009;20(3):311–21. doi: 10.1007/s10926-009-9209-9.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tjulin Å, Maceachen E, Stiwne EE, Ekberg K. The social interaction of return to work explored from co-workers experiences. Disabil Rehabil. 2011;33(21–22):1979–89. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2011.553708.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    MacEachen E, MacEachen E, Kosny A, Ferrier S, Chambers L. The “toxic dose” of system problems: why some injured workers don’t return to work as expected. J Occup Rehabil. 2010;20(3):349–66. doi: 10.1007/s10926-010-9229-5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Scheelar JF. A return to the worker role after injury: firefighters seriously injured on the job and the decision to return to high-risk work. Work. 2002;19(2):181–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Dekkers-Sánchez PMMDM, Wind H, Sluiter JKP, Frings-Dresen MHWP. What promotes sustained return to work of employees on long-term sick leave? Perspectives of vocational rehabilitation professionals. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2011;37(6):481–93. doi: 10.1136/bmj.330.7495.802.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Larsson A, Gard G. How can the rehabilitation planning process at the workplace be improved? A qualitative study from employers’ perspective. J Occup Rehabil. 2003;13(3):169–81. doi: 10.1023/a:1024953218252.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    WorkCover Tasmania. Injury management: making it work. []. Accessed 12 Mar 2012.
  13. 13.
    Kulkarni M. Contextual factors and help seeking behaviors of people with disabilities. Hum Res Dev Rev. 2012;11(1):77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    American Psychological Association. Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington: American Psychological Association; 2010.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Colella A. Coworker distributive fairness judgments of the workplace accommodation of employees with disabilities. Acad Manag Rev. 2001;26(1):100–16.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Colella A, Paetzold R, Belliveau MA. Factors affecting coworkers’ procedural justice inferences of the workplace accommodations of employees with disabilities. Pers Psychol. 2004;57(1):1–23. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2004.tb02482.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Stone DL, Colella A. A model of factors affecting the treatment of disabled individuals in organizations. Acad Manag Rev. 1996;21(2):352–401.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Chiaburu DS, Harrison DA. Do peers make the place? Conceptual synthesis and meta-analysis of coworker effects on perceptions, attitudes, OCBs, and performance. J Appl Psychol. 2008;3(5):1082–103. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.93.5.1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Hodson R. The ethnographic contribution to understanding co-worker relations. Br J Ind Relat. 2008;46(1):169–92. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8543.2007.00670.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Nichols JL. The Influence of coworker justice perceptions on worksite accommodations and the return to work of persons with disabilities. J Appl Rehabil Couns. 2008;39(3):33–9. doi: 10.1177/0149206305277800.2006-00714-00710.1177/0149206305277800.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Adams JS. Inequity in social exchange. In: Berkowitz L, editor. Advances in experimental psychology. New York: Academic Press; 1965. p. 267–99.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hastorf AH, Northcraft GB, Picciotto SR. Helping the handicapped: how realistic is the performance feedback received by the physically handicapped. Pers Soc Psychol B. 1979;5(3):373–6. doi: 10.1177/014616727900500321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Kulkarni M, Lengnick-Hall ML. Obstacles to success in the workplace people with disabilities: a review and reserach agends. In Working Paper Series. San Antonio, Texas: University of Texas at San Antonio, College of Business: 2012. []. Accessed 2 Jan 2013.
  24. 24.
    Colella A, Varma A. Disability-job fit stereotypes and the evaluation of persons with disabilities at work. J Occup Rehabil. 1999;9(2):79–95. doi: 10.1023/a:1021362019948.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Paetzold RL, García MF, Colella A, Ren LR, Del Triana MC, Ziebro M. Perceptions of people with disabilities: when is accommodation fair? Basic Appl Soc Psychol. 2008;30(1):27–35. doi: 10.1080/01973530701665280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Fawcett J. Criteria for evaluation of theory. Nurs Sci Quart. 2005;18(2):131–5. doi: 10.1177/0894318405274823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Schultz I, Stowell A, Feuerstein M, Gatchel R. Models of return to work for musculoskeletal disorders. J Occup Rehabil. 2007;17(2):327–52. doi: 10.1007/s10926-007-9071-6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Shaw WS, Pransky G, Fitzgerald TE. Early prognosis for low back disability: intervention strategies for health care providers. Disabil Rehabil. 2001;23(18):815–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Post M, Krol B, Groothoff JW. Work-related determinants of return to work of employees on long-term sickness absence. Disabil Rehabil. 2005;27(9):481–8. doi: 10.1080/09638280400018601.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lysaght RM, Larmour-Trode S. An exploration of social support as a factor in the return-to-work process. Work. 2008;30(3):255–66. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1665.2006.02248.x.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Siegel DI, Green J, Abbott A, Mogul M, Patacsil M. Barriers to employment: returners to welfare and those who have left the welfare and employment rolls. Soc Pol J. 2004;3(4):19–37.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Dunn EC, Wewiorski NJ, Rogers ES. A qualitative investigation of individual and contextual factors associated with vocational recovery among people with serious mental illness. Am J Orthopsychiat. 2010;80(2):185–94. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01022.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Kosny A, Lifshen M, Pugliese D, Majesky G, Kramer D, Steenstra I et al. Buddies in bad times? The role of co-workers after a work-related Injury. J Occup Rehabil 2012: 1–12. doi: 10.1007/s10926-012-9411-z.
  34. 34.
    Lemieux P, Durand M-J, Hong QN. Supervisors’ perception of the factors influencing the return to work of workers with common mental disorders. J Occup Rehabil. 2011;21(3):293–303. doi: 10.1080/09638280600835986.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Guzman J, Yassi A, Cooper JE, Khokhar J. Return to work after occupational injury. Family physicians’ perspectives on soft-tissue injuries. Can Fam Physician. 2002;48:1912–9.PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Dunstan D, MacEachen E. Bearing the brunt: co-workers’ experiences of work reintegration processes. J Occup Rehabil. 2013;3(1):44–54. doi: 10.1007/s10926-012-9380-2.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Baril R, Clarke J, Friesen M, Stock S, Cole D. Management of return-to-work programs for workers with musculoskeletal disorders: a qualitative study in three Canadian provinces. Soc Sci Med. 2003;57(11):2101–14. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(03)00131-x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Kivimaki M, Vahtera J, Thomson L, Griffiths A, Cox T, Pentti J. Psychosocial factors predicting employee sickness absence during economic decline. J Appl Psychol. 1997;82:858–72.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Crook J, Milner R, Schultz IZ, Stringer B. Determinants of occupational disability following a low back injury: a critical review of the literature. J Occup Rehabil. 2002;12(4):227–95.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Andersen L, Kines P, Hasle P. Owner attitudes and self reported behavior towards modified work after occupational injury absence in small enterprises: a qualitative study. J Occup Rehabil. 2007;17(1):107–21. doi: 10.1007/s10926-007-9064-5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Eakin JM, MacEachen E, Clarke J. ‘Playing it smart’ with return to work: small workplace experience under Ontario’s policy of self-reliance and early return. Pol Pract Health Saf. 2003;1(2):19–41.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Glozier N, Hough C, Henderson M, Holland-Elliott K. Attitudes of nursing staff towards co-workers returning from psychiatric and physical illnesses. Int J Soc Psychiatr. 2006;52(6):525–34. doi: 10.1177/0020764006066843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Sager L, James C. Injured workers’ perspectives of their rehabilitation process under the New South Wales workers compensation system. Aust Occu Ther J. 2005;52(2):127–35. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1630.2005.00477.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Tjulin A, Maceachen E, Ekberg K. Exploring the meaning of early contact in return-to-work from workplace actors’ perspective. Disabil Rehabil. 2011;33(2):137–45. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2010.489630.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Williams KD, Karau SJ. Social loafing and social compensation: the effects of expectations of co-worker performance. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1991;61(4):570–81. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.61.4.570.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    MacEachen E, Clarke J, Franche R-L, Irvin E, Institute for Work, Health (IWH) Workplace-Based RTW Intervetnion Literature Review Research Team. Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2006;32(4):257–69.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    MacEachen E, MacEachen E, Kosny A, Ferrier S, Chambers L. The “toxic dose” of system problems: why some injured workers don’t return to work as expected. J Occup Rehabil. 2010;20(3):349–66. doi: 10.1007/s10926-011-9329-x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    The Australian Institute for Social Research. The role of the workplace in return to work—an evidence base for informing policy and approaches. Discussion Paper Adelaide. 2008. []. Accessed 12 Mar 2012.
  49. 49.
    Waddell G. Biopsychosocial analysis of low back pain. Bailliér Clin Rheum. 1992;6(3):523–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Hepburn CG, Franche RL, Lori F. Successful return to work: the role of fairness and workplace-based strategies. Int J Workplace Health Manag. 2010;3(1):7–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Gates LB. Workplace accommodation as a social process. J Occup Rehabil. 2000;10(1):85–98. doi: 10.1037/0021-843x.93.2.222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Holmgren K, Ivanoff S. Supervisors’ views on employer responsibility in the return to work process. A focus group study. J Occup Rehabil. 2007;17(1):93–106. doi: 10.1007/s10926-006-9041-4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Bain EI. Safe nursing: return to modified duty requires accommodation, communication. Mass Nurse. 1998;68(9):7.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Gervey R, Bedell JR. Supported employment in vocational rehabilitation. In: Bedell JR, editor. Psychological assessment and treatment of persons with severe mental disorders. Washington: Taylor & Francis; 1994. p. 151–72.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Rusch FR, Minch KE. Identification of co-worker involvement in supported employment: a review and analysis. Res Dev Disabil. 1988;9(3):247–54. doi: 10.1016/0891-4222(88)90003-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Billett S. Workplace mentors: Demands and benefits. J Workplace Learning. 2003; 15(3):105–13. doi:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Discipline of Psychology, School of Behavioral, Cognitive and Social SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for Work and HealthTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations