OBJECTIVE: To test whether psychosocial factors at work are predictors of rates of sickness absence. METHODS: The study population consisted of middle aged men and women employed by the French national electricity and gas company (EDF-GDF) in various occupations and followed up since 1989 by annual self administered questionnaires and independent data obtained from the medical and personnel departments of EDF-GDF. The 1995 questionnaire provided information about three psychosocial work factors: psychological demands, decision latitude, and social support at work. Sick-ness absence data were provided by the company's social security department. The occurrence of spells and days of absence in the 12 months after completion of the 1995 questionnaire was studied. Potential confounding variables were age, smoking, alcohol, and marital status, assessed in the 1995 questionnaire, and educational level and occupation, assessed from data provided by the personnel department. This study was restricted to the 12,555 subjects of the initial cohort who were still working and answered the self administered questionnaire in 1995. RESULTS: Low levels of decision latitude were associated with more frequent and longer sickness absences among men and women. Low levels of social support at work increased the numbers of spells and days of absence among men only. These associations weakened after adjustment for potential confounding factors, but remained significant. CONCLUSION: The study indicates that psychosocial factors at work, especially decision latitude, are predictive of sickness absence.
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