Relational social capital: Norwegian women’s experiences of the process of being on sick leave and the path back to work
Keywords:sickness absence, relational social capital, women, mental illness, musculoskeletal diagnoses
Background: The reduction of the number of people that drop out of the labour force and temporarily receive public benefits has increasingly been a political priority in Norway since the early 1990s. In particular, there has been a focus on reducing sick leave. However, none of the efforts in this direction has had the desired effects. To succeed, more knowledge is needed regarding the factors that create the illnesses influencing the length of the sickness leave.
Aim: The purpose of this article is to study how relational social capital, both at work and home, has an impact on the experience of being on long-term sick leave and the process of returning to work.
Methods: Individual in-depth interviews have been performed with 20 women between 25 and 60 years old. They were all sick-listed for more than 30 days during 2013 with mental illness or musculoskeletal diagnoses.
Results: The study illustrates how long-term sickness absence can threaten the identity and self-confidence of the sick-listed persons. The effects of relational social capital are expressed through personal relationships with their family members, friends, colleagues, and managers at their workplace. Individuals with high social capital in both the workplace and the domestic sphere have the best prospects for recovering and returning to work. High workplace capital may, to a certain degree, compensate for low domestic social capital. Single mothers with low social capital both in their domestic life and in their workplace are the most vulnerable.
Conclusion: Relational social capital influences both the experience of being on sick leave and the process of returning to work. The efforts to reduce sickness leave should therefore focus on not only the sick-listed person, but also their relationships with their family and in their workplace, as well as the interplay between these.
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