Reintegrating employees undergoing cancer treatment into the workplace: a qualitative study of employer and co-worker perspectives

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Purpose The purpose of this study was to explore how employers and co-workers experience the return to work (RTW) process of employees undergoing cancer treatment. Methods Sixteen semi-structured individual interviews and participant observations at seven workplaces took place, involving seven employers and nine co-workers with different professions. A phenomenological-hermeneutic analytic approach was applied involving coding, identification of themes, and interpretation. Results We identified three employer themes: call for knowledge, Making decisions, and Feeling helpless. Also, three co-worker themes were identified: understanding and sympathy, extra work and burden, and Insecurity about future work tasks. Early initiated RTW, e.g. less work hours and work accommodations, did neither constitute challenges for employers nor co-workers in the beginning of the RTW process. However, when the RTW process was prolonged employers encountered difficulties in finding suitable work tasks, whereas co-workers were burdened by extra work. Conclusions Overall, cancer survivors’ RTW process was welcomed and encouraged at the workplace level. However, employer and co-worker experiences suggested that RTW initiation parallel with cancer treatment raised challenges at the workplace level, when the RTW process was extended beyond the initial RTW plan; increased workload and difficulties in balancing the needs of the cancer survivor and co-workers. Mechanisms that support cancer survivors’ RTW without introducing strain on co-workers should be investigated in future research. Furthermore, support for employers in their RTW management responsibilities needs to be addressed in general and in particular in future RTW interventions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Volume29
Issue4
Pages (from-to)764-772
Number of pages9
ISSN1053-0487
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • Cancer survivors, Rehabilitation, Return to work, Workplace

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