Aims: To determine whether psychosocial work environment and indicators of health problems are prospectively related to incident long term sickness absence in employees who visited the occupational physician (OP) and/or general practitioner (GP) in relation to work.
Methods: The baseline measurement (May 1998) of the Maastricht Cohort Study, a prospective cohort study among 45 companies and organisations, was used to select employees at work who indicated having visited the OP and/or GP in relation to work. Self report questionnaires were used to measure indicators of health problems (presence of at least one long term disease, likeliness of having a mental illness, fatigue) and psychosocial work environment (job demands, decision latitude, social support, job satisfaction) as predictors of subsequent sickness absence. Sickness absence data regarding total numbers of sickness absence days were obtained from the companies and occupational health services during an 18 month period (between 1 July 1998 and 31 December 1999). Complete data were available from 1271 employees.
Results: After adjustment for demographics and the other predictors, presence of at least one long term disease (OR 2.36; 95% CI 1.29 to 4.29) and lower level of decision latitude (OR 1.69; 95% CI 1.22 to 2.38) were the strongest predictors for sickness absence of at least one month. A higher likelihood of having a mental illness, a higher level of fatigue, a lower level of social support at work, and low job satisfaction were also significant predictors for long term sickness absence, but their effect was less strong.
Conclusion: In detecting employees at work but at risk for long term sickness absence, OPs and GPs should take into account not only influence of the psychosocial work environment in general and level of decision latitude in particular, but also influence of indicators of health problems, especially in the form of long term diseases.
- psychosocial work characteristics
- self reported health
- working population, sickness absence
- occupational physician
- general practitioner
- CI, confidence interval
- GP, general practitioner
- OP, occupational physician
- OR, odds ratio
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