Indexed on: 06 Oct '16Published on: 06 Oct '16Published in: Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Introduction Many disability prevention strategies are focused on acute injuries and brief illness episodes, but there will be growing challenges for employers to manage circumstances of recurrent, chronic, or fluctuating symptoms in an aging workforce. The goal of this article is to summarize existing peer-review research in this area, compare this with employer discourse in the grey literature, and recommend future research priorities. Methods The authors participated in a year-long sponsored collaboration that ultimately led to an invited 3-day conference, "Improving Research of Employer Practices to Prevent Disability", held October 14-16, 2015, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA. The collaboration included a topical review of the scientific and industry literature, group discussion to identify key areas and challenges, drafting of initial documents, and feedback from peer researchers and a special panel of experts with employer experience. Results Cancer and mental illness were chosen as examples of chronic or recurring conditions that might challenge conventional workplace return-to-work practices. Workplace problems identified in the literature included fatigue, emotional exhaustion, poor supervisor and co-worker support, stigma, discrimination, and difficulties finding appropriate accommodations. Workplace intervention research is generally lacking, but there is preliminary support for improving workplace self-management strategies, collaborative problem-solving, and providing checklists and other tools for job accommodation, ideas echoed in the literature directed toward employers. Research might be improved by following workers from an earlier stage of developing workplace concerns. Conclusions Future research of work disability should focus on earlier identification of at-risk workers with chronic conditions, the use of more innovative and flexible accommodation strategies matched to specific functional losses, stronger integration of the workplace into on-going rehabilitation efforts, and a better understanding of stigma and other social factors at work.