Self-directing return-to-work: Employees' perspective

Jard Smeets, Nicole Hoefsmit, Inge Houkes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Web of Science)


BACKGROUND: Dutch legislation stimulates active participation of employees in their own return-to-work (RTW). In addition, RTW professionals encourage sick-listed employees to self-direct RTW. It remains unclear, however, how employees give meaning to and shape their self-direction.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to conceptualize self-direction using the components of Self-Determination Theory (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) as a framework.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three long-term sick-listed employees. These results were combined with 14 existing transcripts of semi-structured interviews with long-term sick-listed employees and employees who experienced long-term sick leave during the previous calendar year. All interview transcripts were analyzed thematically.

RESULTS: Employees generally think of self-direction as making their own decision regarding RTW. They wish to decide by themselves how to shape their RTW-process. Several environmental factors play a role in employees' self-direction. Proximal factors are satisfaction of the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Distal factors are legislation regarding RTW, organizational culture and clarity regarding the roles of various stakeholders in the process of sickness absence and RTW.

CONCLUSIONS: Exercising self-direction in RTW seems to contribute to a personalized RTW-process that takes into account individual needs and wishes. Preconditions for effective self-direction are a supportive environment and good cooperation between employee, employer, and occupational physician.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)797-807
Number of pages11
JournalWORK-A Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2019


  • Sickness absence
  • sick leave
  • work resumption
  • cooperation
  • self-determination theory

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