Gradual return to work (abbreviated G-RTW) is a key instrument for enabling employees (Federal Association for Rehabilitation / Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft für Rehabilitation, 2019) to return to their full work capacity step by step following a long or serious illness.
Including medical and therapeutical support, G-RTW contributes to stabilising the employability and ability to work sustainably. In this respect, a successfully implemented G-RTW within the scope of operational integration management supports the self-determined and equal participation of people who suffer from a disability or those at risk in our society, especially in working life (Section 1 of the German Social Code [SGB] IX). Operational integration management (Betriebliches Eingliederungsmanagement - BEM) is a structured process and workplace-based measure for the reintegration of employees with a long-term sickness laid down in Section 167 Subsection 2 of the German Social Code IX. Employees who have been unable to work for more than six weeks within twelve months are entitled to participate in a BEM.
G-RTW aims at giving sick-listed employees the opportunity to learn how to reassess their ability to cope with stress, to regain their self-confidence, and to reduce their fears of becoming overwhelmed or suffering a relapse (Federal Association for Rehabilitation, 2019). For this purpose, key players in the company and the returning employee work together in tandem with the medical and care staff providing the treatment, as well as with the health insurance providers, the pension insurance system and integration services both before and during G-RTW.
On the one hand, the current research regarding G-RTW emphasised the importance of the measure during the reintegration, but also draws attention to its weakness. A main focus is put on the access and the operational implementation of G-RTW. As regards the possible reasons for an ineffective G-RTW, the main challenges mentioned are a lack of information and knowledge on the part of the participants, unclear criteria regarding the allocation, the content-based limitations of G-RTW, and insufficient networking at the operational and inter-company levels. These include among others, company doctors, company interest groups, supervisors and returning employees as well as the treating medical and care staff.
Against this background, the project of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) examines the current practice of G-RTW, and addresses the associated expertise and experience of the key players involved. It examines G-RTW starting from the planning up to the implementation in the company. To this end, interviews and group discussions are held with returning employees and the stakeholders involved, which are then analysed using the documentary method of interpretation (Bohnsack 2010).
The objective is to extrapolate recommendations for action at the practical level by means of the experience-based and practical knowledge of the interviewed participants. Above all else, the results are then used to improve the access to G-RTW, the development of its content and, in this context, the cooperation between stakeholders within and outside the company.
Unit 3.3 "Evidence-based Occupational Health, Workplace Health Management"