IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Factors influencing return to work after depression - The viewpoint and role of union players


In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that in less than a decade, depression would be one of the leading causes of disability along with cardiovascular diseases (World Health Organization, 2005). In fact, we have seen an increase in disability benefits for mental disorders, particularly depression. These disorders account for 40% of all salary insurance claims (MSSS, 2005). The return to work of employees who have been on sick leave for depression can be complex because it involves a number of players. To our knowledge, few studies have examined the viewpoint of union players on factors that facilitate or hinder the return to work of individuals suffering from depression, or their role in the return to work process of such employees.

The purpose of this study was to better understand the role of union players in the return to work of individuals who had suffered from depression, as well as factors that, from their point of view, facilitate or hinder return to work. The main questions were: In your role as a union player, what have you done within the return to work process of employees who have suffered from depression?  What do you think helps people return to work after a depression? What hinders or complicates their return to work?

A qualitative study was done in which 23 people (12 men and 11 women) connected with three union organizations participated in one of three discussion groups. The discussion group was selected as an interview technique not only to provide access to a range of union player viewpoints, but also to encourage group reflection. The sample consisted equally of union representatives and peer helpers who, by definition, play a more direct role with employees. The target population was union players who had some years of experience in a union environment and had been in contact with employees who had suffered from depression. The discussions were retranscribed verbatim, based on which the content was analyzed.

First, the results show a vagueness in the definition of the union players’ role with employees who have suffered from depression. Their involvement seems to vary considerably from case to case, specifically based on the type of union players on the union team (union representatives, peer helpers), the relationship between the employee and the union and its active members, and employer-union cooperation within the organization. Subsequently, results related to factors perceived by union players as facilitating or hindering the return to work of individuals who have experienced depression are presented. The factors that emerged are presented by player group, i.e. employer and organization, coworkers, the employee with depression, the union, and physicians and medical services. Four recurring interplayer factors (convergence analysis) emerged: an organizational culture that values mental health and the human aspect of work, support and follow-up throughout the sick leave and return to work, lack of resources, prejudices and discomfort of players in face of depression.

The findings of this research fill an empirical void in the literature on the return to work of individuals who have experienced depression. The results of the discussion groups with union players present the viewpoint of these key players on factors that facilitate or hinder return to work, while emphasizing the poorly defined but central role of union players with employees who have suffered depression. This study also takes account of these players’ role as intermediary or special conciliator between the parties involved in the return to work process and the importance of clarifying their role and practices to facilitate an employee’s return to work after a mental disorder, particularly depression.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Marc Corbière
  • Louise St-Arnaud
  • Marie-José Durand
  • Marie-France Coutu
  • Tania Lecomte
  • Alessia Negrini
  • Marianne Renard
Research Project: 0099-8360
Research Field: Occupational Rehabilitation
Online since: April 04, 2014
Format: Text