We conducted in-depth interviews of 98 employees in the Norwegian governmental ministries that were the target of the 2011 Oslo bombing. Participants were randomly selected from 2519 employees who had responded to a web-based survey. We used a stratified sampling procedure to ensure inclusion of a wide range of experiences in terms of exposure and stress reactions. Participants were asked what, if any, factors contributed to work participation or sick leave, and which factors made a difference in how quickly people on sick leave returned to work. Thematic analyses provided three themes that stimulate work participation and prevent sick leave: supportive management, the ability of a leader to accept individual needs and help people cope with stress; sense of cohesion, feelings of being close, caring for each other, and working well together; and working as a coping strategy, basic assumptions that it is best to stick to work and familiar routines, or a strong belief in one’s ability to master. A fourth theme, high demands and lack of acceptance, included experiences that promoted an absence from work, such as too much business as usual, management’s lack of priorities for which tasks could be left out, or a lack of recognition of individual needs. The findings point to key factors that workers perceive as important for work participation in the aftermath of a disaster. We suggest that health and productivity benefits can be achieved by organizing work and the work environment in line with these experiences.
Returning to work after large-scale traumatic events is desirable for employees, their organization, and society. The aim of the present study was to identify work-related factors that are perceived as important for work participation versus sick leave after a terrorist attack.