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Supporting the return to employment: Findings from a study with disability pensioners

New study on disability pensioners at Jacobs University Bremen: Only few manage to return to work.


February 12, 2020

Despite being highly motivated in the beginning, only very few individuals receiving a temporary disability pension manage to return to work. According to a recently published study, on average only one in a hundred respondents succeeds in doing so. The scientific study was conducted by Jacobs University Bremen in cooperation with the Deutsche Rentenversicherung Oldenburg-Bremen (German Pension Insurance Oldenburg-Bremen). "The reintegration of temporary disability pensioners is a major challenge," says Prof. Dr. Sonia Lippke, health psychologist at Jacobs University. "An increased social participation by means of returning to work would pay off both for the individual and for society as a whole.“

Across Germany, 1.8 million people received a temporary disability pension in 2018, most of them due to mental health problems. The average monthly pension was 795 euros. In their study, researchers from Jacobs University and the Deutsche Rentenversicherung Oldenburg-Bremen examined the expectations and experiences of those affected over a period of 17 months. They also took a closer look at the factors that could facilitate their return to work. 453 people took part in the study in the area Oldenburg-Bremen in Northern Germany. Their average age was 50 years.

"Many of the study participants would like to work again. Shortly after retirement entry, their motivation is still high. The longer the limitation in earning capacity lasts, the lower their motivation," says Lippke. An important reason for intending to work again is the need for appreciation – to feel needed –, but also to earn money. "Work is enormously important for social participation," emphasizes Lippke. Society would also benefit from the reintegration of benefit recipients. But this proves to be particularly difficult for older people. During the time of the study, only four individuals managed to return to work. They were between 28 and 58 years, with a mean age of 46 years.

For temporary disability pensioners, good health is one of the most important resources, it also helps to keep motivation high, says Lippke. According to the authors, personalized medical rehabilitation, could therefore effectively support a return. It should be offered to a larger number of affected people and is all the more promising the earlier it is offered and the younger the participants are.

Lippke, S., Schüz, N., & Zschucke, E. (2020). Temporary Disability Pension, RTW-Intentions, and RTW-Behavior: Expectations and Experiences of Disability Pensioners over 17 Months. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 17(1), 238.