Workplace Social System and Sustained Return-to-Work: A Study of Supervisor and Co-worker Supportiveness and Injury Reaction


Objective To examine the impact of the social workplace system on sustained return-to-work (SRTW). Methods A random sample of workers’ compensation claimants was recruited to complete a survey following claim acceptance (baseline), and 6 months later (time 2). SRTW, at baseline and time 2, was classified as those reporting being back at work for >28 days. Co-worker and supervisor support were assessed using five and seven items, respectively, and total scores were produced. A list of potential supervisory and co-worker reactions were presented to participants who were asked whether the reaction applied to them; response were coded as positive or non-positive. Demographic and injury characteristics, and work context factors were collected. Baseline and at time 2 multivariable models were conducted to examine the impact of supervisory and coworker support and injury reaction on SRTW. Results 551 (baseline) and 403 (time 2) participants from the overall cohort met study eligibility criteria. At baseline, 59% of all participants indicated SRTW; 70% reported SRTW at time 2. Participants reported moderate support from their supervisor (mean = 8.5 ± 3.9; median = 8.2; range = 5–15) and co-workers (mean = 10.2 ± 4.5; median = 10.3; range = 5–25). Over half reported a positive supervisor (59%) or co-worker injury reaction (71%). Multivariable models found that a positive supervisor injury reaction was significantly associated with SRTW at baseline (OR 2.3; 95% CI 1.4–3.9) and time 2 (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.1–2.3). Conclusions Promoting supervisor positivity towards an injured worker is an important organizational work disability management strategy.

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This study is funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) and Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR). The authors would also like to acknowledge the Social Research Centre (SRC) for conducting study interviews. Also, we would acknowledge the assistance of WorkSafe Victoria, SafeWork Australia, Office of The Age Discrimination Commissioner, Beyond Blue and the Australian Industry Group.


This study is funded by the Australian Research Council and Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research awarded to PS (LP130100091).

Author information




AJ led analytical procedures and manuscript development. PS is the principal investigator for the study, and led the conceptualization, development and design of the study protocol. He critically reviewed and revised the manuscript and significantly contributed to the analysis. ADL, RL, MS, SHJ were involved in the development of the study protocol, acquisition of research funding, and manuscript development.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arif Jetha.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Jetha, A., LaMontagne, A.D., Lilley, R. et al. Workplace Social System and Sustained Return-to-Work: A Study of Supervisor and Co-worker Supportiveness and Injury Reaction. J Occup Rehabil 28, 486–494 (2018).

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  • Return-to-work
  • Organizational factors
  • Social support
  • Injury reaction
  • Supervisor
  • Co-worker
  • Work disability management
  • And longitudinal analysis