Workplace interventions to prevent disability from both the scientific and practice perspectives: A comparison of scientific literature, grey literature and stakeholder observations

© 2016 The Author(s)Purpose The significant individual and societal burden of work disability could be reduced if supportive workplace strategies could be added to evidence-based clinical treatment and rehabilitation to improve return-to-work (RTW) and other disability outcomes. The goal of this article is to summarize existing research on workplace interventions to prevent disability, relate these to employer disability management practices, and recommend future research priorities. Methods The authors participated in a year-long 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 literature, group conference calls to identify key areas and challenges, drafting of initial documents, review of industry publications, and a conference presentation that included feedback from peer researchers and a question/answer session with an expert panel with direct employer experience. Results Evidence from randomized trials and other research designs has shown general support for job modification, RTW coordination, and organizational support, but evidence is still lacking for interventions at a more granular level. Grey literature reports focused mainly on job re-design and work organization. Panel feedback focused on organizational readiness and the beliefs and values of senior managers as critical factors in facilitating changes to disability management practices. While the scientific literature is focused on facilitating improved coping and reducing discomforts for individual workers, the employer-directed grey literature is focused on making group-level changes to policies and procedures. Conclusions Future research might better target employer practices by tying interventions to positive workplace influences and determinants, by developing more participatory interventions and research designs, and by designing interventions that address factors of organizational change.