The role of negative return-to-work expectations

People who struggle with common mental disorders, and at the same time have negative future work expectations, are less likely to return to work. 

By Rune Rolvsjord and Andreas R. Graven

Camilla Løvvik. (Photograph: Rune Rolvsjord)

Uncertainty and expectations of returning to work are good predictors of whether a person will be on sick leave or disability benefits in six months’ time.

That is one of the findings in Camilla Løvvik’s recent doctoral thesis. Løvvik is a member of the research group Stress, Health and Rehabilitation at Uni Research Health.  

The study participants were people who have difficulty staying at work due to common mental problems such as anxiety and depression.

One-third were in danger of needing to take sick leave, while another third were already on sick leave. The remaining third were receiving long-term benefits, such as disability benefits.

Those with positive expectations of working in the future were more likely to be at work six months later.

The Centre for Employment Mastery

Løvvik also found that expectations predict future work participation better than levels of anxiety and depression.

Expectations were related to a person’s attitude to mental health problems. But workplace bullying was also an important factor that increased the risk of later sickness absence and disability benefits.

The data used in Løvvik’s thesis are from a project called Impact Evaluation of the Centre for Employment Mastery.

This is a measure initiated by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), which has a positive effect on long-term absence.

The role of health services

In Løvvik’s opinion, it is important that occupational health services and GPs address the question of expectations of future work participation.

“We might easily think that if someone with uncertain or negative expectations just begins to ‘think positively’, then everything will be okay. But that is not the way it is,” she points out.

“Expectations are shaped by experiences and opportunities in the world around us. This must be addressed by employers, leaders, GPs and occupational health staff, not just by the individual with mental health problems,” says Løvvik.

Oct. 9, 2015, 11:03 a.m.